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BLOOD CANCER

Although quite prevalent, little advance in treating it

Blood cancer
(Photo: Shutterstock)
September is blood cancer awareness month. Blood cancer is used to refer to three main types of cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Unfortunately, these cancers are quite prevalent in the world, even with modern medicine, and Jordan is no exception. اضافة اعلان

A 2017 report released by the Ministry of Health found that lymphoma is the third most common (7.6 percent) form of cancer in Jordanian adults and leukemia is the eighths (3.6 percent). Even more concerning is the prevalence of blood cancers among children. Leukemia, at 26.4 percent, is by far the most common form of cancer among Jordanian children, and lymphoma is third (12.3 percent).



Understanding more about the different types, the different symptoms, and early detection, as well as ways to help prevent them can help reduce the likelihood of developing blood cancer.

Blood cancer types
Leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma are distinct types of cancer, but they all fall under the term blood cancer because of the effects they have on blood cells and bone marrow (the site where different types of blood cells are produced). Ultimately, these cancers will disrupt natural production of blood cells and their function.

Leukemia
Leukemia starts in the bone marrow and results in the production of abnormal blood cells, particular white blood cells. These abnormal white blood cells survive longer than normal cells and accumulate in large numbers, but most importantly, they negatively impact the immune system. White blood cells play an important role in immunity and these abnormal cells make it difficult to fight off infection.

Leukemia is divided into two main subtypes, which describe the area most affected. One is lymphocytic leukemia, which starts in white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Lymphocytic leukemia produces too many abnormal lymphocytes, which impairs the production of healthy white blood cells. The second type is myeloid leukemia; it starts in myeloid cells, which have the ability to transform into white and red blood cells, as well as platelets. As a result, myeloid leukemia can affect the production of all three types of blood components. These subtypes can be further divided into acute and chronic, making four total subtypes of leukemia.

Lymphoma
The body has a network of vessels similar to that of veins and arteries known as the lymphatic system. Instead of carrying normal blood, it carries a fluid known as lymph, which ultimately helps store and transport white blood cells.



Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the lymphatic system; it starts in lymphocytes. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s. Both typically start in a particular type of lymphocyte known as B cells, which are integral to the immune system. The main difference between the two types is that Hodgkin’s lymphoma produces large abnormal lymphocyte known as Reed-Sternberg cells in the lymph nodes.

Myeloma
Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, is a cancer that affects the plasma cells in bone marrow. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that make antibodies. As the myeloma cells spread through the bone marrow, they damage the bones and disrupt the production of healthy blood cells.

Symptoms of blood cancer

Symptoms of blood cancer vary depending on the specific type, however there are many overlapping symptoms that should serve as early warning. One common symptom relates to the immune system. If you experience persistent, recurrent, or severe infections and develop unexplained fevers (i.e., 38°C+), this may be indicative of blood cancer.
Studies over the years have found that body weight can play a role in developing cancer and therefore physical activity and a balanced diet can help.
Other symptoms may relate to red blood cells and clotting. This may include constant fatigue that does not improve with rest, loss of color in skin, unexplained bruising or bleeding, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include lumps or swelling, unexplained weight loss, pain in joints, abdomen or bones, unexplained rash or itchy skin, loss of appetite or nausea, and drenching night sweats.

Causes and risk factors
The aforementioned symptoms are not specific to blood cancer and can be explained by many other conditions. However, if these symptoms are present alongside risk factors for blood cancer, that may be greater cause for alarm. All blood cancers are caused by mutations in the DNA of blood cells. Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing blood cancers.

Leukemia
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common form of leukemia in adults. Risk factors for developing AML include exposure to certain industrial chemicals, smoking, and exposure to high doses of radiation. Moreover, certain demographics are inherently predisposed to AML, such as age, individuals with inherited genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, and those with a history of cancer treatment or other blood cancers.

Lymphoma
In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, risk factors include being male, having a family history of Hodgkin’s, and age. Those who had a history of infection with Epstein-Barr virus or have a compromised immune system are also at higher risk.

In the case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, exposure to certain industrial chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides, as well as radiation exposure can increase the risk. Additionally, a compromised immune system and a history of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, can be risk factors.

Myeloma
Similar to the other types of blood cancers, two common risk factors include being male and older. However, individuals of African descent or who are overweight or obese are also at higher risk.

Early detection
Currently, there is no widely accepted screening protocol for blood cancers despite them being quite prevalent. As a result, blood cancers are not regularly found until signs and symptoms are apparent.



That being said, there are certain demographics which should take extra precautions.

It should be noted that falling into a “high risk” category, does not necessarily mean developing blood cancer. In the case of leukemia, those with inherited genetic disorders or history of treatment for other cancers may require more regular checkups.

With lymphoma, if you start to notice enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin, you should follow up with your doctor as soon as possible. Children with inherited immune deficiencies, previous cancer treatment, organ transplant, or HIV will likely need more regular checkups. Lastly, multiple myeloma is extremely difficult to detect in early stages due to the fact that symptoms do not typically appear until more advance stages.

Prevention of blood cancers
Unfortunately, there is no known way to completely prevent blood cancer. Sometimes, a person can have no risk factors, but develop it anyways. However, there are certain lifestyle changes that could potentially reduce the risk. Avoiding carcinogens (i.e., chemicals that can cause cancer) such as benzene (found in industrial chemicals), smoking, and high-dose radiation can help reduce the risk.

Studies over the years have found that body weight can play a role in developing cancer and therefore physical activity and a balanced diet can help. Lastly, reducing the risk of contracting HIV can reduce the risk of developing lymphoma.

Cancer, as a whole, is a complex field of medicine that still requires further advancement. For additional information on blood cancers check out the King Hussein Cancer Center website or cancer.org.


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