September is Blood Cancer Awareness month. Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer – more than 201,870 new cases are expected this year in the United States. Nearly 866,000 Americans are living with Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. An estimated 68,000 deaths will result from blood cancer this year.
Blood cancers affect the production and function of your blood cells. Most of these cancers start in your bone marrow where blood is produced. Stem cells in your bone marrow mature and develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. In most blood cancers, the normal blood cell development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. These abnormal blood cells, or cancerous cells, prevent your blood from performing many of its functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding.
There are three main types of blood cancer:
- Leukemia, a type of cancer found in your blood and bone marrow, is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. The high number of abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection, and they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.
- Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that 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.
- 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 can include:
- Fever, chills, night sweats and other flu-like symptoms
- Weakness and fatigue
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Swollen tonsils
- Bone pain
- Pinhead-size red spots on the skin
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Itchy skin