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Mysterious Bruises, Night Sweats — Is It Blood Cancer?

Maybe you’ve had a bruise that appeared easily, and you can’t recall having bumped into anything that would have caused it. Perhaps you noticed a swollen lymph node that remained that way, even after a few weeks. Each ailment is easy enough to ignore, but if you’ve felt feverish as well, even experiencing night sweats, it may be time to visit your doctor. These symptoms can precede the onset of blood cancer. 

The average person probably doesn’t know much about blood cancers, or the fact that 1.2 million Americans are either living with or are in remission from one of these. But with blood cancers accounting for about 10 percent of new cancer cases every year, it’s important to become familiar with the potential signs.

How Blood Cancers Differ

Blood cancers begin with cancerous cells that start either in the bone marrow — where blood cells are made — or in the bloodstream or lymphatic channels, where these cells are normally present. These abnormal cells prevent your blood from performing many of its functions, such as fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. 

Many different blood cancers exist, but the three most common are leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Each behaves differently. Some are fast-growing, aggressive and need to be treated in an urgent manner (acute leukemias). Others are chronic, growing slowly over time, and may not need treatment at all.

Risk factors leading to blood cancer differ according to age, gender, race and cancer type. For instance, those under 45 will only rarely develop myeloma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Know the Red Flags

It is crucial to know what signs to watch for. See your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever

  • Unexplained bruises

  • Persistent fatigue or weakness

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin

  • Loss of appetite

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Headaches

  • Night sweats

  • Itchy skin or rash

  • Frequent infections

If you have any concerns or experience one or more of these symptoms, request that your family doctor check your current hemoglobin levels for issues.

Treat Early, Live Longer

Although most blood cancers are not hereditary, having a family history of certain cancers can increase your risk of developing blood cancer. Being aware of your family history is important, along with being vigilant about any of the symptoms associated with it. 

Over the last two decades survival rates for those with blood cancer have greatly improved, according to the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Many of those diagnosed with leukemia live five years or longer. The survival rate is even higher for those with lymphomas. 

Research has come a long way. Blood cancers often can be cured or managed if diagnosed in a timely manner with different treatments, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Addressing any obvious warning signs early is important to starting treatment, as many blood cancers can be completely cured if discovered and treated early.

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