September is Blood Cancer Awareness month. In this blog, our information development nurse, Teri, gives a brief overview of the 3 main types of blood cancer (leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma) and talks about some symptoms to be aware of.

With every heartbeat, our heart pumps blood throughout our bodies. Blood acts as a transport system delivering oxygen and nutrients to all our cells. It also picks up waste products and takes them away from our cells.

Our blood is made up of: 

  • Red cells – that carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies.
  • White blood cells - that fight against infection.
  • Platelets – that help blood to clot when we get injured.
  • Plasma - which is a fluid that has nutrients and waste products.

Each day, new blood cells are made to replace ones that have worn out. This happens inside the part of the bones called the bone marrow. Sometimes this development process can go wrong. If this happens, it can cause an abnormal type of blood cell or a blood condition to develop, including blood cancer. There are different types of blood cancer that can affect your blood, bone marrow or lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease and it drains fluid from the body’s tissues.

Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. Leukaemia can be fast growing, known as acute leukaemia. When it is acute, the symptoms may appear very quickly over a few weeks and people may feel ill quite quickly. The most common types are acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML).

Or leukaemia can be slower growing. This is known as chronic leukaemia. In early stages of chronic leukaemia, many people do not have symptoms or develop more slowly, over months or years. The types of chronic leukaemia are chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML).

This image is a quote from Terry. It reads One night, I noticed a part of my neck was swollen. I was a bit under the weather at the time so I assumed it was part of that. But it didnt go away, so I went to the doctor.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. In lymphoma, blood cells called lymphocytes become abnormal. There are two main types of lymphoma – Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). There are many types of NHL. Some grow very slowly and may not need treatment for months or years and may not need treatment at all.

The most common symptom of lymphoma is a painless swelling or lump in one or more the lymph nodes.  Some symptoms of leukaemia and lymphoma can be the same. For example:

  • Frequent or severe infections or unexplained high temperatures
  • Bruising or bleeding easily, for example, having bleeding gums and frequent nosebleeds or heavy periods in women
  • Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Swollen lymph nodes or swellings
  • Heavy drenching sweats, especially at night
  • Itchiness or rash all over the body that does not go away.
  • Feeling generally unwell and run-down, perhaps with a sore throat or mouth
  • Looking very pale
  • A cough or becoming breathless easily
  • Unexplained weight loss or tummy pain
  • Bone or joint pain and tenderness
  • Frequent headaches.

If you have any of the above symptoms, you should have them checked by your GP.

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell which fight infection. In myeloma, the process of developing plasma cells is out of control and large numbers of abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) are made. The myeloma cells fill up the bone marrow and make it hard to make healthy white and red cells and platelets. The bone can also become damaged.

This image is a quote from Frances, who was diagnosed with myeloma. It reads I was getting more tired than usual. And if I had an infection, I felt exhausted. I had a good immune system up until then.

Symptoms of myeloma may vary and may not cause any symptoms in the early stages. They may include:

  • bone pain, fractures, pressure on the spine, or nerve problems causing weakness or numbness in your legs
  • frequent infections due to reduced number of normal blood cells
  • feeling tired
  • kidney problems, causing poor appetite and weight loss
  • raised levels of calcium in the blood (symptoms of this include: extreme thirst, constipation, feeling sick or confusion).

All the above symptoms are common to many illnesses other than blood cancer. But if you have any of the symptoms we have mentioned in this blog, you should have them checked by your GP.


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