Blood cancers can attack anyone at any age. To be aware of the symptoms is to be two steps ahead of the game..

Your bone marrow is the production house for your stem cells. They produce several kinds of cells, which are broadly classified as erythrocytes (red blood cells), leukocytes, lymphocytes (white blood cells), plasma cells and more. Blood cancers are abnormalities that affect the way in which your blood cells are produced and function. Many of these cancers start in your bone marrow. In most blood cancers, normal blood cell development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of abnormal blood cells, which prevent your blood from performing many of its functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. There are three major types of blood cancer: leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas.

When white blood cells go haywire

Cancers that start in the bone marrow and cause the production of large numbers of white blood cells, which then accumulate in the bloodstream, are called leukaemias. They disrupt the function of your tissues and organs. Leukaemias can be acute (they progress rapidly) or chronic (they progress slowly). Both types can be fatal if they are not managed properly. Patients with acute leukaemias often experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue, breathlessness, weakness
  • Recurrent and refractory infections such as chest infections, urinary infections and so on
  • Bleeding and bruising
  • Enlargement of lymph glands
  • Abdominal pain because of liver and splenetic enlargement
  • Giddiness, visual problems, cognition problems, fits etc.

Patients with chronic leukaemias could experience the same symptoms but because the disease develops slowly, they are able to tolerate them better. Therefore they often seek medical attention quite late

When your lymph system is under attack

Lymphomas are blood cancers whichinvolve the abnormal growth and behaviour of B or T lymphocytes, thewhite blood cells that form a part of your immune system. There are two major types of lymphomas: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lumps or swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, night sweats and fevers are some of the symptoms that patients experience.

Poisoning by M-protein

Myeloma is a complicated form of cancer. It caused by the overgrowth in the bone marrow of an immune cell called a plasma cell, which secretes what is called the ‘M-protein’ into the bloodstream.Patients could experience pain in their bones, particulary those of the back, fatigue, infections, bleeding and bruising, problems with the kidneys etc. People under age 45 rarely develop the disease.

Goal: Remission

The goal in treating blood cancer is to achieve remission, a situation characterized by the absence of symptoms. Treatments include watchful waiting, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, targetted therapy, biological therapy and stem cell transplants. Patients diagnosed with blood cancer are treated by a specialist team of haematologists and oncologists. The good news is that survivorship for blood cancers have increased significantly due to advances in modern medicine. And of course, the earlier treatment starts, the more effective it is.

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