Dr. Juergen Scheel is a former Global Clinical Development Leader (Merck, Roche, AmGen). He has 20+ yrs experience in drug development and discovery. He has worked extensively in clinical trials and research, achieving with the respective teams and several drug approvals in oncology and hematology.
The last decade has seen a considerable jump in the number of blood cancer cases in India. In fact, blood cancer has emerged as one of the most common causes of death with a prevalence of over one lakh people being diagnosed with a form of blood cancer like leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma. According to a Globocan India 2020 report, approximately 35,828 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are detected every year. Likewise, 48,419 cases of leukemia and 14,641 cases of multiple myeloma are reported annually.
These cases can occur both in adults and children. As per reports, incidence leukemia and lymphoma are the most common types of childhood blood cancers. From a global perspective, India ranks third after China and the US in reporting blood cancer cases, which is a growing health burden for the country.
Despite these alarming figures, the awareness and information about blood cancer are minimal. To address this gap, September is designated as Blood Cancer Awareness Month, a time for supporters and advocates of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to spread awareness and raise funds for the efforts to control this deadly disease. But what essentially is blood cancer? Let us understand this condition in depth.
What is Blood Cancer?
In medical terms, cancer caused due to a dysfunction in cellular growth and behavior is called blood cancer. New white blood cells are constantly generated to replace old, dying ones in an average, healthy body. When these white blood cells are produced in excess in the bone marrow, it leads to blood cancers. These cancerous blood cells restrict your system from performing many functions, such as preventing severe bleeding or fighting off infections.
What are the Types of Blood Cancers?
There are three primary kinds of blood cancers:
- Leukemia: This type of cancer found in your bone marrow and blood is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. Because of the high number of abnormal white blood cells, a person’s body fails to fight infections. It has been reported as the most common blood cancer among children under 15.
- Myeloma: This cancer of plasma cells is known as myeloma. Plasma cells produce both – disease and infection-fighting antibodies in the system. Myeloma cells avert antibodies’ average production, resulting in a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infection.
- Lymphoma: Cancer of the lymphatic system is known as Lymphoma. The lymphatic system includes lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow. Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are the two main subtypes of lymphoma.
What are the Symptoms of Blood Cancer?
Multiple symptoms of blood cancer vary from disease to disease, but some of the common signs include the following:
- Weight loss
- Bone and joint pain
- Bruising or bleeding
- Swelling of lymph nodes and spleen
What are the Causes of Blood Cancer?
All types of blood cancers are caused due to mutations in the genetic material – the DNA – of blood cells. Depending on the specific kind of blood cancer, the risk factors vary.
Risk Factors for Myeloid Leukemia
- Advanced aging
- Exposure to industrial materials like benzene
- History of cancer treatment
- History of blood cancers
- Exposure to high doses of radiation
Risk Factors for Hodgkin Lymphoma
- History of infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that causes infectious mononucleosis
- Advancing age
- Compromised immune system
- Family history of Hodgkin Lymphoma
Risk Factors for Myeloma
- Advancing age
- Higher risk among African-Americans
- Extra body weight or obesity
- Family history of myeloma
What are the Treatment Options for Blood Cancer?
The treatment for blood cancer can depend on multiple factors like the type and stage of cancer, severity, age, etc. Some of the most-preferred therapies include:
- Radiation Therapy: It uses high-energy rays to destroy cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy: It includes administering anti-cancer drugs in the body through injection or a pill to target and destroy cancerous cells.
- Targeted Therapy: It uses drugs targeting only cancer cells without affecting normal cells. This treatment option is used primarily to treat leukemia.
- ImmunoTherapy: In treatments like this, the immune system is strengthened and activated to eliminate only specific cancer cells.
- Surgery: This involves the removal of infected lymph nodes to treat lymphoma.
- Stem Cell Transplantation: In this treatment option, healthy blood-forming stem cells removed from peripheral bone marrow, blood, or umbilical cord are imbued in the body to produce healthy blood cells. Stem cell transplants prove particularly beneficial for certain patients owing to swift availability and reduced risk of post-transplant infectious diseases and complications.
With rising incidences of blood cancer and similar other disorders such as thalassemia and aplastic anaemia, it is crucial for more people of Indian ethnicity to raise awareness regarding this life-threatening condition and become blood stem cell donors so that at least one life can be saved!