There are three main types of blood cancer – leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Leukemia causes the bone marrow to produce abnormal white cells, which crowd out or reduce the production of normal cells, making it hard for them to do their work such as carrying oxygen or clotting.
Lymphoma and myeloma attack the immune system reducing the body’s ability to produce infection-fighting white blood cells, and plasma cells which contain antibodies.
Research shows that certain risk factors, including exposure to radiation, smoking and family history, increase the chance that a person will get blood cancer.
Common symptoms include frequent infections, feeling weak or tired and pain in the bones or joints. Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
Treatment for blood cancer varies from patient to patient. Options for treatment include chemotherapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplant.
Blood performs a lot of important tasks in our bodies. The cells in the blood all have different jobs. Red cells carry oxygen to important organs in the body such as the heart and brain and are also important for removing waste products from those organs too.
When someone has too few red blood cells they are said to be anaemic. White blood cells have the main job of helping the body to fight infection. If people have too few white blood cells or these cells aren’t working properly then they are at risk of infection and are sometimes said to have low immunity.
Platelets are small pieces of cells that circulate in the blood. Their main job is to allow the blood to clot. For this reason people who have too few platelets tend to bleed more than normal and people who have too many platelets tend to be at a higher risk of developing blood clots than those with normal platelet counts.
We have lymph glands (also called lymph nodes) all over our bodies. These glands are needed to help our bodies deal with infection. They contain lots of different cells but the main type of cell found in lymph glands is the lymphocyte.
Lymphocytes help us to fight infection but they need to respond to the body’s natural signals that tell cells when to grow, divide and die. Sometimes lymphocytes stop responding to these normal signals and too many lymphocytes build up in lymph nodes, in the bone marrow or in other tissues. This is what happens when patients develop lymphoma.
The bone marrow is the factory where blood cells are made. By looking at the bone marrow under the microscope doctors can tell how blood cells are developing and whether too few or too many of each cell type are being produced.