Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases in the world. It can affect any organ of the body, including blood cells. Symptoms and signs depend upon what part is involved with the disease. Cancer affecting the blood and the lymphatic system is called blood cancer.
Dr Ashay Karpe, consultant medical oncologist, haematologist and bone marrow transplant physician at Fortis SL Raheja Hospital, Mumbai, says, “Historical reporting of hematologic malignancy (blood cancer) statistics grouped them into 5 major categories: Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL), Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), Myeloma and Acute and Chronic Leukaemia. Blood cancers accounts for about 10% of all cancers diagnosed annually.”
Blood cancers are classified and subtyped based on investigations and molecular tests. All these cancers require tailored treatment. “Certain types of blood cancers like acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (especially among children), Hodgkin’s lymphoma, etc have very high cure rate — almost 80 to 90%. Blood cancers like chronic myeloid leukaemia are managed with oral tablets which can be taken at home. Certain high risk cancers require stem cell transplant to achieve better results,” adds Dr Karpe.
As medical science is evolving constantly, newer modalities of treatment like immunotherapy (besides chemotherapy) are being developed, which have better results and fewer side effects. Prompt and early diagnosis of these cancers, along with regular treatment by experts increases chance of cure.
Symptoms of blood cancer
Dr Uma Dangi, consultant medical oncologist at Fortis Hospital, Mumbai, says, “Anaemia because of low haemoglobin can cause fatigue and shortness of breath on exertion. Low platelets can lead to red spots on the skin or bleeding. There is an increased risk of infections which may result in fever. Bone pains, night sweats and weight loss are among other symptoms. Lymphomas may present as swellings in the neck, armpit or groin area. Abdominal Lymph Nodes can cause pain or bloating sensation of the stomach. A complete blood count may yield the diagnosis in some cases.”
The minimum investigations required for diagnosis are a complete blood count, peripheral smear examination, coagulation profile and lymph node excision biopsy.
Understandably, being diagnosed with cancer affects the patient’s mental health too. Moreover, it affects the entire family’s physical and mental health and finances. Encouragement to face challenges and support from family and friends are an integral part of cancer treatment. “With newer therapies and supportive care, cure rates are increasing and adverse effects are declining. Key to success is timely diagnosis and intervention by experts and compliance to treatment from patients and their relatives,” says Dr Karpe.