Cancer has no respect for age, color, caste or creed; it affects people globally and the rates are going up every year. There is no organ in the human physiology that is immune to cancer formation and blood is no less. Blood cancer is an umbrella term used to describe the rapidly multiplying cancerous white blood cells which can focus their attack on any aspect of the human circulatory system, the lymphatic system as well as the bone marrow.
In normal individuals, it’s the white blood cells that fight infection, but in cancerous conditions, these abnormal white blood cells aren’t able to fight any infection or inflammatory condition and in fact go on to further impair the production of red blood cells and platelets in the bone marrow.
There are three basic types of blood cancers, i.e., leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma; each of these types have various variations as well.
This causes production of abnormal immature white blood cells from over-stimulation of the bone marrow; the process clogs up the system in such a way that red blood cell and platelet production is greatly impaired. These abnormal white blood cells cannot fight any infection. Leukemia can set in two ways, as acute leukemia – which comes on suddenly and needs to be treated as early as possible; the other type is chronic leukemia which develops slowly over a period of months or even years.
Leukemia can be classification into four main types:
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – Most common type.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – Most common in children.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) – A very rare form.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) – Rare in those below 40 years.
This type of blood cancer affects the lymphatic system that provides the immune cells to fight infection and inflammation. Lymphocytes are the main type of white blood cells that are active in fighting infection and a lymphoma results in rapid multiplication of these cells leading to collection of abnormal lymphocytes within the lymph nodes and other tissues such as bone marrow, blood and spleen. There are two main types of lymphomas:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma – It’s more common in older people.
- Hodgkin lymphoma – It’s very rare and occurs in young and older adults.
Also known as multiple myeloma, this is cancer of the plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cells that fight diseases by producing specific antibodies to them. In myeloma, the bone marrow gets flooded with abnormal plasma cells that prevent it from triggering an immune response. The risk for multiple myeloma increases with age with a majority occurring after the age of 70 years.
Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)
This is a group of blood disorders whereby the bone marrow isn’t producing the right amounts of blood cells, thus leading to the person feeling very tired, weak and bruising and bleeding very easily. It’s a rare condition that can sometimes progress to myeloid leukemia and mainly affects older people.