September is National Blood Cancer Awareness month, and unlike cancers that affect one region of the body, blood cancers affect the whole body. Since they do not form a lump or tumor in a specific organ, they are typically more difficult to detect.
Our blood contains red and white blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Blood cancers including lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma affect different parts of the blood and interfere with the normal function of blood in the body. Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system, which includes white blood cells called lymphocytes, which protect the body against infection. Leukemia originates inside the bone marrow causing an overabundance of white blood cells that impede the marrow’s ability to make sufficient red blood cells and plasma. Myeloma affects plasma cells, which are white blood cells that fights off infection, and when cancerous, manufacture an abnormal protein that can damage organs and bodily systems.
Individuals affected with lymphoma, leukemia, or myeloma may not feel a tumor, but they can watch for symptoms such as frequent infections; coughing or chest pain; fever or chills; weakness or fatigue; shortness of breath; night sweats; or an itchy skin rash.
Although blood cancers differ from other cancers in how they present and the parts of the body they affect, they often are initially treated in the same way, with chemotherapy and radiation to target these cancers. Stem cell transplant, also known as bone marrow transplant, is a more common treatment for blood cancers, with the marrow extracted from the patient or received from a donor. Those who suspect the presence of blood cancers should consult with a doctor who can order blood tests to form a diagnosis.