What is Blood Cancer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Blood cancer is a form of cancer which attacks the blood, bone marrow, or lymphatic system. There are three kinds of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. These malignancies have varying prognoses, depending on the patient and the specifics of the condition, but overall survival rates with blood cancer increased radically in the late 20th century with the development of advanced treatments. When caught early, blood cancer can be very manageable in some cases, which is one very good reason to make regular trips to the doctor a priority for people of all ages.

Samples of blood from a healthy person and from one with leukemia, a type of blood cancer.
Samples of blood from a healthy person and from one with leukemia, a type of blood cancer.

In the case of leukemia, the cancer interferes with the body's ability to make blood. Leukemia attacks the bone marrow and the blood itself, causing fatigue, anemia, weakness, and bone pain. It is diagnosed with a blood test in which specific types of blood cells are counted. Treatment for leukemia usually includes chemotherapy and radiation to kill the cancer, and in some cases measures like bone marrow transplants may be required. There are several different types of leukemia, including chronic myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and hairy cell leukemia.

Red blood cells.
Red blood cells.

Lymphomas are blood cancers which involve the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. They are divided into Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's types. Lymphoma often involves swollen lymph nodes in addition to the symptoms for leukemia listed above, and it is also treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer which primarily appears in older people, involving the plasma, another type of white blood cell. Chemotherapy, radiation, and other drug treatments can be used to manage multiple myeloma.

Hematologists analyze blood cancer samples.
Hematologists analyze blood cancer samples.

The goal in treating blood cancer is to achieve remission, a situation characterized by the absence of symptoms. Even in remission, a blood cancer can still start up again, so people who have experienced blood cancer may need to attend regular follow-up medical appointments and annual checkups to check for a recurrence of the cancer. Blood cancer does not appear to be preventable, but like other cancers, the risk seems to be reduced among people who eat a healthy diet, exercise, and maintain good mental health.

Swollen lymph nodes are one symptom of lymphoma.
Swollen lymph nodes are one symptom of lymphoma.

People diagnosed with blood cancer can work with an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer, or a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood. Some patients work with both, attempting to develop a treatment plan which will be as effective as possible. Because individual cases can be quite varied, patients often benefit from second opinions to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan.

Leukemia is often diagnosed after blood testing.
Leukemia is often diagnosed after blood testing.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Is blood cancer is curable disease or not? If a person has blood cancer ( > 2nd stage) does this mean it is difficult to cure?


It's one of the most dangerous diseases in the world.


Can blood cancer kill?


i read about blood cancer but i still don't understand it, so what could be done?


but can it affect dogs more than people?


Does blood cancer have to kill?


Anyone could comment on MGUS? Any know ways of life to keep MGUS levels from rising?


is t cell lymphoropoliferative disorder a blood cancer?


@ GiraffeEars- There are also many different risk factors for blood cancer; some within your control, and others that are genetic.

The National Cancer Institute lists radiation exposure, smoking, and benzene exposure as risk factors for certain types of blood cancer. In more rare cases chemotherapy, Down syndrome and certain blood disorders have also been identified as risk factors.

Human T-Cell virus is also a risk factor that can cause a rare type of blood cancer called Adult T-Cell Leukemia. This virus can be passed from person to person through drug use, sexual activity, and mother to child interactions, but the cancer itself is not contagious.


@ GiraffeEars- The symptoms of blood cancers are so varied that it is always best to consult a doctor and have extensive tests. You should then seek a second opinion from a specialist if your doctor hands down the blood cancer prognosis or if you are not satisfied with the first doctor’s diagnosis.

Some blood cancer symptoms are back pain, frequent headaches, weight loss, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and many other ailments. As you can see, these symptoms are also common symptoms for ailments like migraines, intestinal disorders, gingivitis, high blood pressure, or some other medical problem. While one of these symptoms may not be reason for concern, recurring symptoms or multiple symptoms may be a signal that you should go get checked out.


What are some symptoms for blood cancer? The article discussed a few symptoms of leukemia, but I want to know what the symptoms are of other blood cancers.

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