What sets blood cancers apart from other cancers?

Blood cancers are not like other cancers. Unlike a cancer that affects one region of the body, such as lung cancer afflicting the lungs, blood cancers affect the entirety of the body because blood flows throughout it. Blood cancers do not form a lump or tumor in a specific organ, potentially making blood cancers more difficult to detect.

Blood contains various components. Red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, and platelets all combine to make blood. Blood cancers, which include lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma, affect different components of the blood and interfere in different ways with the normal function of blood in the body.

Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system, which includes white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells help protect the body against infection, advises the health site OnHealth. Leukemia originates inside of the bone marrow. Production of an overabundance of white blood cells may impede the marrow’s ability to make sufficient red blood cells and plasma, states the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Myeloma affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that fights off infection. When they become cancerous, the affected white blood cells can manufacture an abnormal protein that may damage organs and bodily systems.

Individuals affected with lymphoma, leukemia or myeloma may not feel a tumor, but they can look out for other symptoms. These include:

• Frequent infections;

• Coughing or chest pain;

• Fever or chills;

• Ongoing weakness or fatigue;

• Shortness of breath;

• Night sweats; and/or

• Itchy skin or rash.

Even though blood cancers differ from other cancers in the way they present and what parts of the body they affect, they often are initially treated in the same way. SurvivorNet, a cancer survivor resource, says chemotherapy and radiation can target these cancers. Stem cell transplant, also known as bone marrow transplant, is a much more common treatment for blood cancers. Stem cells may be extracted from the patient or received from a donor.

Those who suspect the presence of blood cancers should consult with a doctor who can order blood tests to form a diagnosis.

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