What are blood cancers?

Blood cancers are types of cancer that can affect the bone marrow, blood cells, lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system. Treatments for blood cancers can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy and blood- or stem-cell transplants. Types of blood cancers include leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Lymphomas are cancers of part of the immune system called the lymphatic system, which begin when a type of white blood cell, called a lymphocyte, becomes abnormal.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that specifically affects plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight off disease. If a plasma cell becomes abnormal and begins to replicate, it becomes a myeloma cell.

Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells which form in your bone marrow. In leukemia the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells which crowd out the healthy blood cells, making it hard for blood to do its work.

Symptoms of blood cancers can include swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin; fevers or night sweats; frequent infections; feeling weak or tired; bleeding and bruising easily (bleeding gums, purplish patches in the skin or tiny red spots under the skin); unexplained weight loss; coughing, trouble breathing or chest pain; loss of appetite or itchy skin.

If you experience any or all of these symptoms you should discuss them with your doctor. These symptoms are usually caused by conditions other than cancer.

For more information, contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, at (225) 927-2273, cbritton@cancerservices.org, or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

National Cancer Institute


Leukemia and Lymphoma Society


This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.