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What Is the Connection between Hematology and Oncology?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2016
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The connection between hematology and oncology is that both fields overlap due to the presence of cancers of the blood. Hematology is the study of blood and its diseases while oncology is the study of cancer. Three cancers affect the blood: leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Physicians who specialize in oncology generally receive training in hematology; the opposite is also true.

Hematology is a specialized medicine that concerns itself with the study of blood and blood diseases. Hematologists perform research to better understand blood in the human body, their new discoveries shedding light on the function of blood and the disorders that affect it. Their work is essential to finding treatments for blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia and hemophilia.

Oncology concerns itself with researching the many types of cancer; physicians who specialize in it are called oncologists. Despite centuries of medical advancements, the diagnosis of cancer still mainly relies on the physical exam and having a patient discuss his or her symptoms. As with hematologists, an oncologist can either focus on treating patients or working in a laboratory researching new treatments. Some oncologists have been known to start their careers in one area before switching to another.

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Where hematology and oncology overlap is the cancers that affect the blood. Blood, a tissue, is vulnerable to three forms of cancer: leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. These three hematologic cancers, like all cancers, are due to the rapid proliferation of mutated cells. Each has a specific pathology and recommended course of treatment.

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and white blood cells. The bone marrow produces a large number of mutated white blood cells. These blood cells crowd out normal white blood cells, and the body becomes unable to fight infection. Thus, one of the primary symptoms is suffering from the affects of many opportunistic infections. A combination of chemotherapy, radiation and/or bone marrow transplant has the potential to make one cancer-free.

Hematology and oncology also come into play with lymphoma, a cancer of the body's lymph nodes. A normal lymph node helps fight infection by concentrating large numbers of white blood cells. A lymphoma is a tumor that develops out of a lymph node. Hodgkin lymphoma spreads from one group of lymph nodes to the next while non-Hodgkin lymphoma spreads randomly throughout the body. Depending on the cancer's stage, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments can either cure the cancer or slow its progression so much that a patient can still have a normal lifespan.

The final cancer where hematology and oncology overlap is myeloma. Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, white blood cells that produce antibodies. Bone pain and kidney failure are the two most common symptoms. Depending on a patient's age and other medical issues, a combination treatment of chemotherapy and stem cell therapy may be able to provide a cure. Like with lymphoma, survivability largely depends on the cancer's stage at diagnosis.

To better understand these cancers, physicians going into either field receive training in both hematology and oncology. In both specialties the technical knowledge is required to properly study leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Having common knowledge also encourages cooperation between physicians in hematology and oncology, leading to more treatments for these diseases.

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