What are the risk factors of blood cancer?
The exact cause of blood cancer is not known yet. However, few risk factors which may lead to blood cancer are:
- Family history,
- Viral infections like Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1),
- Certain chemotherapy drugs,
- Genetic disorders like Down syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome,
- Blood disorders
- Exposure to petrochemicals
- Cigarette smoking
What are the symptoms of Blood cancer?
Symptoms for blood cancer vary based on the type of blood cancer. Chronic blood cancers do not develop rapidly; hence there may be no symptoms. Acute leukemia might lead to severe symptoms. Even though there are various types of blood cancer, there are a few common symptoms. They are:
- Recurrent infections or fever
- Weakness & Fatigue
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Minimal body strain results in bone fractures
- Excessive or easy bruising
- Bleeding gums
- Sweating of body during night
- Weight loss
- Lymph node (gland) enlargement
- Enlarged abdominal organs
- Abdominal pain, Bone pain and Back pain
- Delirium and confusion
- Abnormal bleeding in gums nose and cuts, which will lead to platelet reduction
- Headaches along with visual difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Decrease or difficulty in urination
How to diagnose blood cancer?
Blood cancer can be diagnosed by first examining the symptoms. Other reasons for these symptoms are ruled out in order to confirm that it is cancer.
Blood samples are collected and tested in labs. The number of blood cells is counted. The size and shape of blood cells are examined for abnormalities.
Bone marrow sample is collected by bone marrow biopsy which involves inserting a thick hollow needle into the bone marrow near hip through local anesthesia. This sample is examined for further confirmation of blood cancer. Other tests like X-rays, MRI and CT Scans are useful in determining blood cancer and its location.
How to treat blood cancer?
Treatment for blood cancer varies from patient to patient. The treatment options depend on the type of cancer, patient’s age and their health status etc. Treatment aims at remission i.e., complete elimination of cancer cells, and also at controlling the symptoms.
Acute leukemia is treated immediately. The treatment aims at reducing the symptoms first and then remission and complete destruction of cancer cells.
For chronic leukemia, the patient is not treated but closely monitored so that treatment can be given as soon as symptoms show up. This helps to control and eliminate cancer cells. However, there is a risk of cancer getting worse. Chronic leukemia is less likely to be cured but the symptoms and the disease can be controlled.
There are various treatment options which are used in different combinations depending on the patients:
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves administration of drugs to destroy rapidly dividing cells. It is taken through oral pills or tablets or intravenous injections. These are given in cycles with rest periods in between in order to avoid or reduce side effects.
Some of the side effects can be nausea, hair loss, mouth sores, fatigue and loss of appetite. There may also be infertility but it is a rare case.
Biological therapy – This involves administration of tumour vaccines, antibodies or cytokines which can kill cancer cells. Side effects of this can be fatigue, fever, rash, swellings, aches etc.
Targeted therapy – Unlike other therapies this does not kill all the rapidly growing cells. This targets the functioning of cancer cells and stops further growth rather than killing the cells. It is in pill or injection form.
Side effects can be nausea, diarrhea, rash, weight gain, swelling, cramps and bloating etc.
Radiation therapy – This involves high energy radiation exposure to targeted cancer cells in parts where leukemia cells are accumulated.
Side effects can be nausea, fatigue, dry and tender skin etc.
Stem cell/ bone marrow transplantation – This method involves administering high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to destroy cancer cells along with normal bone marrow. Then stem cells are transplanted from a donor or from other part of the same patient, to produce new and healthy blood cells.
Can blood cancer be prevented?
There is no known cause of blood cancer, hence it cannot be prevented. However, decreasing the risk factors may reduce the risk of blood cancer.
Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and body weight may reduce the risk of blood cancer.
In case of family history of blood cancer, regular check-ups can help in early detection of cancer cells and be treated effectively.
Being aware of the symptoms can help in early detection and treatment.