An Introduction to Blood Cancers


As with any form of cancer, with blood cancer, it is important to know what potential symptoms or warning signs might be and be vigilant about seeing a physician should any arise.  Some cancer symptoms are more common and well-known than other kinds.  For example, many people know that changes in skin appearance or the shape of a mole may be a sign of skin cancer.  Most women know that if they find a lump in their breast that it may be a sign of cancer and that they should see a physician.  But, blood is entirely inside the body and many people may not be familiar with what to watch for when it comes to blood cancer.  Blood cancer, also known as hematologic cancer, typically starts in the bone marrow and then begins to affect blood cells but it can take on a variety of forms.

Types of blood cancer include leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.  Leukemia is a cancer that originates in blood-forming tissue.  Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that starts in cells that are known as lymphocytes, which are in the lymph nodes or lymphatic tissue.  Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infections and stay healthy.  Hodgkin lymphoma starts in lymphocytes just like non-Hodgkin lymphoma but the distinction between the two types is made when the doctor examines the cells themselves.  Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is far more common than Hodgkin lymphoma.  Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by what is known as Reed-Sternberg cells which are large, mature cancer cells.  While non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common, Hodgkin lymphoma has a higher survival rate than non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Finally, multiple myeloma is a cancer that begins in blood plasma cells.

Knowing and recognizing potential blood cancer symptoms can potentially help save your life, or the life of someone you know.  Of course, any of the symptoms we will mention may be symptoms of something else entirely and not of blood cancer but it is important to see your physician to discuss any symptoms you might be experiencing.  Symptoms of blood cancer include a persistent, unexplained fever, chills, persistent fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, unexplained weakness, night sweats, bone and/or joint pain, headaches, shortness of breath, abdominal discomfort, frequent infections, swollen lymph nodes, skin rash or itchiness, and a tendency to bleed or bruise easily.  If you notice any of these symptoms it is important to consult your physician who will be able to offer advice and run testing to investigate what may be causing the symptoms.



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