Spotting the early signs of blood cancer - What do you need to know?

Author: Dr Agne Zemaite

Date: Oct 2019

What is blood cancer?

Blood cancer is the type of cancer which affects the development of your blood cells. Blood cancer occurs when abnormal blood cells start growing out of control and interrupts normal blood cell function. Blood cancers start in the bone marrow, lymphatic system and plasma cells.

What are the most common types?

There are 3 main types of blood cancer: Leukaemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma.

Leukaemia is a cancer of blood cells and bone marrow. Usually affects the production of white blood cells and interferes with the bone marrow’s ability to make red blood cells and platelets.

Lymphoma develops in the lymphatic system - lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell responsible for fighting infections.

Myeloma begins in the blood plasma cells and in the bone marrow.

Who is most at risk?

It’s not known exactly what causes changes in DNA that leads to blood cancer, but there are several factors like: age, sex, ethnicity, family history, exposure to radiation and chemicals, other health conditions and treatment which can cause blood cancer.

Risk factors vary with different cancers.

Leukaemia usually starts in childhood.

Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people between the ages of 15 and 40 and people older than 55. Men have a higher risk for Hodgkin lymphoma; however, the nodular sclerosis subtype is more common in women.

Myeloma occurs most commonly in people over 60 and twice as frequently in people from Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.

What are the symptoms and how can you spot the early signs?

Thera are multiple blood cancer symptoms. Some of the most common are fever, chills, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and rest of the body, bone – joint pains, frequent infections, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite and nausea, bleeding and bruising easily, discomfort or swelling in the abdomen.

When should you seek medical attention?

It is important to visit your GP if you are having more than one of the above symptoms. It is common to have the same symptoms with other unrelated illnesses and it is unlikely you will be diagnosed with blood cancer; however, it is crucial to rule out or diagnose blood cancer at an early stage.

How can you get tested?

Your GP will perform a physical examination related to your symptoms and likely will order blood tests for more reassurance. If any changes are noticed you might be referred for further investigation with a specialist, which may include imaging tests like an ultrasound scan, X-ray, CT or MRI scans, bone marrow exam, or surgical lymph node removal.

What are the treatment options?

Blood cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer, the patients age and where it has spread. Most common cancer treatment is Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplantations.

References:
https://www.cancercenter.com/blood-cancers
https://bloodwise.org.uk/info-support/blood-cancer
https://www.webmd.com/cancer
https://www.medicinenet.com/
https://www.leukaemiacare.org.uk
https://hillman.upmc.com/cancer-care/blood/symptoms-diagnosis

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Last revised: 10 October 2019

Next review: 10 October 2022