Blood Cancer

Our blood comprises of three main types of cells including white blood cells (WBCs), red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells in which bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal WBCs which increasingly outnumbers the normal blood cells. This tends to cause serious problems such as anemia or blood loss, bleeding, and infections.

WBCs being an important element of our immune system guards our body from foreign infections. In leukemia, WBCs start dividing irregularly and stop functioning normally.

If you develop symptoms of leukemia, it is important to know exactly what type it is because the outlook (prognosis) and treatments vary for the different types of blood cancers.


Blood Cancer

Though people can get leukemia at any age, it is most common in people over 60 years.

At TX Hospitals, the best cancer hospital for treating leukemia, we have pioneered new standards of care for all types of leukemia and blood disorders in India. We have a team of skilled doctors who are specially trained to recognize the type of leukemia, which is critical in choosing the right treatment plan.

The four most common types of leukaemia are:

  • Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL)
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)

Each main type of leukaemia is named according to the type of cell that is affected (a myeloid cell or a lymphoid cell) and whether the disease begins in mature or immature cells. People can get leukeamia at any age. It is most common in people over age 60. The most common types in adults are AML and CLL. ALL is the most common form of leukaemia in children.

What are blood cancer symptoms?

Blood cancer symptoms vary based on blood cancer type, but there some symptoms all three have in common:

Fatigue: This is feeling so tired you can’t manage your daily activities. You may also feel weak.

Persistent fever: A fever is a sign your body is fighting infection or responding to abnormal cancer cells.

Drenching night sweats: This is sweating that comes on suddenly while you’re sleeping, disturbing your sleep and drenching your bedding and clothes.

Unusual bleeding or bruising: Everyone has bumps, bruises and injuries that make us bleed. Unusual bleeding or bruising is bleeding that doesn’t stop and bruises that don’t heal after two weeks.

Unexpected or unexplained weight loss: Unexpected weight loss of 10 pounds over a six- to 12-+month period is considered unexplained weight loss.

Frequent infections: Frequent infections may be a sign something is affecting your immune system.

Swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged liver or spleen: These symptoms may be signs of leukemia or lymphoma.

Bone pain: Myeloma and leukemia may cause bone pain or tender spots on your bones.

Many blood cancer symptoms are similar to other less serious illnesses’ symptoms. Having any of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have blood cancer. But you should contact your healthcare provider when you notice symptoms or changes in your body that last more than a few weeks.

Diagnose blood cancer

Healthcare providers may begin diagnosis by asking about your symptoms and your medical history. They’ll do complete physical examinations. They may order several kinds of blood and imaging tests, too. The tests they’ll use may be different for each suspected blood cancer type. Tests used to diagnose blood cancer include:

Complete blood count (CBC): This test measures and counts your blood cells. For example, if your healthcare provider suspects you have leukemia, they’ll look for high (or low) white blood cell counts and lower than normal red blood cell and platelet counts.

Blood chemistry test: This test measures chemicals and other substances in your blood. In some cases, your healthcare provider may order specific blood tests for cancer to learn more about your situation.

Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to create three-dimensional images of your soft tissues and bones. If your healthcare provider suspects you have myeloma, they may order a CT scan to look for bone damage.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Your healthcare provider may order an MRI to look for signs of leukemia or lymphoma complications affecting your spine.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This test produces images of your organs and tissues at work. Your healthcare provider may order a PET scan to look for signs of myeloma.

Bone marrow biopsies: Healthcare providers may do bone marrow biopsies to analyze the percentage of normal and abnormal blood cells in your bone marrow. They may also test your bone marrow sample for changes in your DNA that may drive cancer growth.

Blood cell examination: Healthcare providers may take blood samples so they can examine them under a microscope to look for changes in blood cell appearance. For example, they might order peripheral smear test to look for signs of leukemia or lymphoma.

How do healthcare providers treat blood cancers?

Blood cancer treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some blood cancer types respond well to specific treatments. Some blood cancer treatments have significant side effects. Healthcare providers consider factors, including your age, your overall health, the kind of blood cancer you have and specific treatment side effects, before recommending a treatment plan. Some common treatments for blood cancer include:

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a primary blood cancer treatment, killing cancer cells to either slow down the disease’s progress or eliminate the cancer. Healthcare providers use different drug types for different blood cancers.

Radiation therapy: Healthcare providers may use radiation to treat leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. Radiation targets abnormal cells, damaging their DNA so they can’t reproduce. Healthcare providers often combine radiation therapy with other treatments. They may use radiation to ease some symptoms.

Immunotherapy: This treatment uses your immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy may help your body make more immune cells or help your existing immune cells find and kill cancer cells.

Targeted therapy for cancer: This cancer treatment targets genetic changes or mutations that turn healthy cells into abnormal cells.

CAR T-cell therapy: In CAR T-cell therapy, healthcare providers turn T-cell lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell — into more effective cancer treatment. Healthcare providers may use CAR T-cell therapy to treat B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, multiple myeloma and several types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma if other treatments haven’t worked.

Autologous stem cell transplant: Healthcare providers can collect and store bone marrow stem cells before administering high doses of chemotherapy. Once chemotherapy is done, they’ll replace the protected stem cells. This way, people having autologous stem cell implants can avoid chemotherapy side effects.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant: Sometimes, damaged bone marrow needs to be replaced with healthy bone marrow. Healthcare providers identify a suitable bone marrow donor and use the donor’s cells to replace your damaged ones. This is an effective but dangerous procedure.

Side effects of treatment

Patients react to treatments in different ways. Usually, they have mild side effects. Many treatment side effects go away when treatment ends or becomes less noticeable over time. Most can be handled without the need to stop the drug. Other side effects may be serious and lasting.

Common side effects may include:

  • Changes in blood counts
  • Mouth sores
  • Stomach upset
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hair loss
  • Rash
  • Fever