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Blood Cancers: Steps for Prevention

Cancer can develop anywhere in the body, with most blood cancers developing in the bone marrow, which is the soft fatty cavity of the bone where blood cells are produced. Almost 10 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States are blood cancers.

Three Main Types of Blood Cancer

1. Leukemia is the most common cancers in children, accounting for approximately 30 percent of all childhood cancers. Leukemia is a cancer that occurs in early blood-forming cells, usually in the white blood cells, and is found in the blood or bone marrow. Leukemia has several types. Some are acute, or fast growing, and others are chronic, or slower growing. The type of leukemia also depends on the type of cell where it originates, i.e., myeloid or lymphoid cells. These distinctions affect the treatment options and outlook for recovery.

2. Lymphoma originates in the cells that are part of the immune system. Two main types are Hodgkin lymphoma, also called Hodgkin disease, and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The difference between the two is in the type of white blood cell that becomes abnormal.

During a biopsy, if Reed Sternberg cells are detected, the diagnosis is Hodgkin lymphoma. Reed Sternberg cells are a specific type of white blood cell that has become malignant. Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most treatable forms of cancer with 90 percent of people surviving more than five years.

While Non-Hodgkin lymphoma will not have Reed Sternberg cells, doctors can diagnose the disease by detecting abnormalities in other white blood cells. Seventy thousand new cases of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed worldwide every year, with 8,000 new cases diagnosed annually in the United States.

3. Myeloma is the third main type of blood cancer, and it occurs in the plasma cells, which make antibodies to help the body fight infection. Plasma cells are found primarily in the bone marrow. When they grow abnormally, becoming cancerous, it is called multiple myeloma.

Symptoms of Blood Cancer

Unlike some types of cancers, no screening exists to detect blood cancers, so your symptoms will be the first indication that you’re sick. Common symptoms of blood cancer are:

  • Fever or chills
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Fatigue or weakness that won’t go awayAn oncologist goes over blood test results with his patient.
  • Bone/joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent infections
  • Itchy skin or skin rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin

If you experience these symptoms, see your doctor right away.

Prevention of Blood Cancers

Scientists aren’t sure of the cause of many blood cancers, but staying away from factors that increase your risk can help.

Avoid exposure to radiation, chemicals such as pesticides or benzene, and to smoking or tobacco in any form.

Additional lifestyle behaviors, such as staying active and eating a healthy diet can help reduce your risk for developing a variety of cancers and other diseases.

Treatment for blood cancers often consists of chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell treatment. Because of continued research, the survival rate for Americans with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma continues to increase. While there is still a long way to go, the improvements in survival rates are a promising beginning.

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