Cancerous cells in the blood prevent your blood from carrying out its normal functions, such as fighting infection, delivering oxygen around your body, and clotting to stop bleeding. Blood cancers can also spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph glands, liver, kidneys, and spleen.
The main types of blood cancer
There are three main types of blood cancer that affect the blood, lymph nodes or bone marrow (the spongy tissue in bones where blood cells are made).
In people with leukaemia, the bone marrow produces a population of abnormal white blood cells that can “overcrowd” the normal healthy bone marrow, reducing its production of normal white and red blood cells and platelet (clotting) cells. This leads to symptoms of bruising and bleeding (from low platelet cells), infection (from low levels of healthy white blood cells) and lethargy, dizziness and breathlessness (from anaemia, or low red blood cell counts). Leukaemia can also cause sudden weight loss, loss of appetite, fevers and night sweats.
Lymphoma is a blood cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Lymphoma develops when normal lymphocytes encounter a glitch in their genetics which causes them to multiply in large numbers and form swellings throughout the body, typically in lymph glands. Lymph glands can be found throughout the body and usually carry normal lymphocytes to sites of active infection. In lymphoma, abnormal lymphocytes can grow in these lymph glands, and in other organs in the body. Patients with lymphoma may present to their doctor with painless swelling in their lymph glands, fevers, night sweats and sudden weight loss. There are two broad categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Within these groups there are many more subtypes of lymphoma, some slow growing, and some more aggressive in nature.
Myeloma, also called multiple myeloma, develops from abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow. Plasma cells are white blood cells which usually make antibodies to help your body fight infection. These abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) can spread throughout the bone and prevent the production of healthy blood cells. Myeloma cells can also cause problems with high calcium, kidney failure, anaemia (low red cells) and a predisposition towards infection.
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