The best way we can manage blood cancer is by understanding the early signs and beginning timely management. Photo Courtesy: iStock
“To understand what blood cancer is and how it affects the body, it is crucial to know the three types of blood cells,” says Dr Chandrakant Lahane, clinical haematologist, Sahyadri Hospital, Pune.
1. White blood cells (WBCs): They help the body to fight infections.
2. Red blood cells (RBCs): They carry oxygen to all parts of the body.
3. Platelets: They help blood clot in case of injury.
All these blood cells are made in the bone marrow. Lahane explains, “In case of blood cancer, the bone marrow produces abnormal levels of WBCs, crowding the bone marrow thus preventing the production of healthy cells – RBCs, WBCs, and platelets.” In a shocking fact shared by the expert, every 27 seconds, someone somewhere in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer.
Types of Blood Cancer:
Blood cancer is a complex family of five diseases, each with its subtypes. The three main types of blood cancer are leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, but there are many subtypes and some rarer forms. Leukaemia is the cancer of WBCs. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow that affects the body’s ability to produce antibodies, which in turn affects the immune system.
Symptoms of blood cancer:
Blood cancer may not cause any symptoms at all, or they may be mild. General symptoms may include:
Due to the low number of healthy WBCs and high number of abnormal WBCs, the patients are more prone to infections and may frequently get sick and remain ill for longer than usual.
The patients commonly experience unusual exhaustion, dizziness, weakness, and persistent fatigue all the time. It is advisable to consult a medical professional at the earliest.
Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen:
There are many causes of swollen lymph nodes. Many often ignore swollen lymph nodes in places such as the underarms, groin, neck region, etc. since they are painless, but they can be an early sign of Lymphoma. The patient needs to consult doctors to rule out the commonest causes such as infections. Conditions such as an enlarged spleen or liver can also be a symptom. Thus, causes need to be ascertained after consultation with a doctor.
Sudden and unusual bruising and bleeding:
Some people are usually more prone to bruises due to their thin skin, old age, or injuries. But if one experiences unexplained new bruises and red spots with no history or relation to previous injuries, then this can be an early sign of blood disorder or blood cancer. Also, one may experience bleeding from the nose or gums since the platelet levels are low. These conditions can also be early symptoms of blood cancer and may need immediate medical consultation.
Persistent and unexplained weight loss:
While normal weight loss clubbed with physical exercise and dieting is normal, unexplained weight loss can be a cause of concern. Although such unusual weight loss can have multiple factors, any underlying disease like blood cancer can be a possibility and needs immediate medical attention.
In addition to the five symptoms above, one should also keep watch on chills, night sweats, achy or painful joints/bones, itchy skin, loss of appetite, nausea, headaches, shortness of breath, difficulty in urination, severe abdominal pain, mouth sores, small red spots on the skin (petechiae), coughing, vomiting, seizures. One should not ignore any of the above symptoms and get immediate medical help if any of the above symptoms persist.
Regular health checkups in consultation with doctors can help detect blood abnormalities early. The best way we can manage blood cancer is by understanding the early signs and beginning timely management.
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