Understanding Blood Cancer Types

We are all aware that cancer is a chronic disease that requires a lot of courage, strong will, and determination to overcome. Even though medical science has advanced to a great level to help people identify cancer causes and to cope up with it, cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide (Lung Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Breast Cancer, and Stomach Cancer in particular). 

If we talk about blood cancer, it is a kind of cancer that spreads in the blood and tends to change the way blood cells behave and how well they work. The cancerous cells formed in the blood majorly affect the blood cells and bone marrow (the spongy tissue inside your bones where blood cells are made) of the body. The blood cells moving in our body are mainly of 3 types:

  • White Blood Cells (to fight infections as a part of our immune system). 
  • Red Blood Cells (to carry oxygen to our body's tissues and organs and bring carbon dioxide to our lungs so that we can breathe it out). 
  • Platelets (to help our blood clot when we get injured). 

When we talk about Blood Cancer, it generally applies to the formation of cancer in any of the above cells. Some of the blood cancer symptoms that can help in early detection of the disease are - fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, joint pain, body aches, and more. Certain factors such as aging, family history of blood cancer, weak immunity, and certain infections can also contribute to developing blood cancer cells among individuals. Cancer of the blood is typically categorized into 3 segments, namely:

Leukemia - The most common type of cancer among children, people suffering from leukemia make a lot of white blood cells that can't fight infections. Leukemia is further divided into four types based on the kind of white blood cell it affects and whether it grows quickly or slowly.

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) - This starts with white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow. People with ALL make too many lymphocytes that overpower healthy white blood cells. ALL can advance quickly if not treated on time. ALL is commonly found in children (3-5 years) and adults (over 75 years).

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) - This starts in myeloid cells, which normally grow into white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. AML lowers the number of healthy blood cells in all three types. This form of leukemia grows quickly and commonly affects people over the age of 65.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) -  This is the most common type of leukemia in adults. Like ALL, it starts from lymphocytes in bone marrow, but it grows slowly. Many people with CLL don't have any symptoms for years after cancer develops. It generally affects people over 70 years of age.

  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) - This blood cancer starts in myeloid cells, like AML, but the abnormal cells grow slowly in CML. It is more common in men than in women. 

Lymphoma - Lymphoma is a blood cancer type found in the lymph system (The system includes our lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland). The function of these vessels is to store and carry white blood cells in order for our body to fight infections. The two essential types of Lymphomas are -

  • Hodgkin's Lymphoma - It develops in our immune cells called ‘B’ cells. These cells make proteins called antibodies that fight off germs. People with Hodgkin's lymphoma have large cells called ‘Reed-Sternberg cells’ in their lymph nodes.

  • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma - It develops in B cells or in another type of immune cell called a T cell. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Myeloma - Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in our bone marrow. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that makes antibodies. Myeloma cells spread through the bone marrow and damage our bones and crowd out healthy blood cells. These cells also make antibodies that can't fight off infections. This cancer is often called ‘Multiple Myeloma’ because it can be found in many parts of our bone marrow.