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Blood Cancer

Mission Cancer brings together a multidisciplinary team of specialists who provide comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of acute and chronic leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other blood cancers.

Our team of specialists include:

  • Medical oncologists
  • Hematologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Diagnostic radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Genetic counselors
  • Palliative care

What Is Blood Cancer?

In most blood cancers, uncontrolled growth of abnormal blood cells, or cancerous cells, interrupt the usual blood cell development process. These cancerous cells prevent your blood from performing many of its normal functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. Blood plays an important role in how your body functions and supplies all of your organs with oxygen, nutrients, hormones and antibodies.

The three different types of blood cells function differently in your body. As part of your immune system, white blood cells fight infection. Red blood cells carry oxygen to your body's tissues and organs and bring carbon dioxide to your lungs. Platelets help your blood clot when you're injured. Cancerous cells interrupt these processes.

Types of Blood Cancer

While there are over 100 varieties of blood cancers, these are the most common types:

Leukemia

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells. It typically starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside the bones where blood cells are made. There are three types of blood cells, which include white blood cells, which help your body fight infection, red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of your body, and platelets, which help your blood clot.

When you have leukemia, the bone marrow creates abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. They don’t work like normal white blood cells, grow faster than normal cells and don’t stop growing when they should. Over time, they can crowd out normal blood cells, which may lead to serious problems, including anemia, bleeding and infections. They can also spread to lymph nodes or organs and cause swelling or pain.

Leukemia may be acute or chronic. Acute leukemia gets worse fast and may make you feel sick, while chronic leukemia may not cause symptoms for years. Additionally, it may also be lymphocytic or myelogenous. Lymphocytic leukemia affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, while myelogenous affects other types of cells that normally become granulocytes, red blood cells or platelets.

There are four main types of leukemia, which include:

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia

Lymphoma

Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system, which removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. In healthy blood, lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, work to fight infection. Abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells, which multiply and collect in your lymph nodes and other tissues. Over time, these cancerous cells impair your immune system and turn into lymphoma. There are two types of lymphomas: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the most common form of blood cancer in adults, accounting for over half of all diagnosed blood cancer cases.

Myeloma

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body's immune system weakened and susceptible to infection.

Symptoms of Blood Cancer

Symptoms of blood cancer vary by disease. Sometimes symptoms may not be present or they may be non-specific, but typically they include the following:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Swelling of lymph nodes, liver and spleen
  • Anemia

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor.

Blood Cancer Diagnosis

Leukemia

To be tested for leukemia, your doctor will obtain a complete blood count (CBC) test, which can identify abnormal levels of white blood cells relative to red blood cells and platelets.

Lymphoma

To be tested for lymphoma, your doctor will need to perform a biopsy, which removes a small portion of tissue to be examined under a microscope. In some cases, your doctor may also order an X-ray, CT or PET scan to detect swollen lymph nodes.

Myeloma

To be tested for myeloma, your doctor will order a CBC, or other blood or urine tests to detect chemicals or proteins produced as a function of myeloma development. In some cases, bone marrow biopsy, X-ray, MRI, PET and CT scans can be used to confirm the presence and extent of the spread of myeloma.

Blood Cancer Treatment

Treatment will depend on the type of blood cancer you have, your age, how fast the cancer is progressing and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

Treatments for blood cancer have vastly improved over the last several decades, and many types of blood cancers are now highly treatable. Common treatments include the following:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells, and may be used in combination with radiation therapy. It is the most common treatment for leukemia. At Mission, our medical oncologists and hematologists are experts in the blood-related processes, treatments and research options.

Learn more about medical oncology.

Find a medical oncologist.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells. At Mission, our therapists specialize by tumor type. They use the latest technologies and treatments, including the CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery system, and coordinate care with your medical oncologist and primary care physician to ensure precise and accurate treatment.

Learn more about radiation oncology.

Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell transplantation is the replacement of damaged bone marrow cells with healthy cells (stem cells). Stem cells are immature cells produced in the bone marrow that make more stem cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to attack specific targets or processes of cancer cells. It may be used alone, but is most often combined with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Targeted therapy only affects cancer cells and not the other cells in the body, and can stop them from growing or spreading by blocking cell signals.

Support and Survivorship

We understand a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. That’s why we offer comprehensive support services to ensure we meet the educational, nutritional and psychological needs of our patients. Additionally, we offer a specialized leukemia support group for current patients, survivors and caregivers to provide support, discussion and community.

Click here to browse our support services