Blood cancer or blood cancer is a condition when blood cells become abnormal or malignant. Most of these cancers start in the bone marrow where blood cells are produced. Blood cancer is divided into three, namely leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma .
Unlike most cancers, blood cancer generally does not form a solid lump (tumor). Symptoms of blood cancer are also not specific so that they can mimic the symptoms of other diseases.
Blood consists of a number of components with different functions, namely:
- Red blood cells function to transport oxygen throughout the body
- White blood cells, function to form antibodies and fight infection
- Platelet cells (thrombocytes) play a role in the process of blood clotting
- Blood plasma, functions to carry blood cells along with proteins and nutrients throughout the body, as well as removing metabolic waste from the body
Blood cancer can cause the number of these blood components to be below normal or even excessive. This condition can cause the function of other organs to be disrupted.
Causes of Blood Cancer
Blood cancer occurs when blood cells undergo mutations (changes) and become cancerous. These changes cause cells to grow abnormally and uncontrollably. Different from normal blood cells, blood cells affected by cancer lose their function to clot blood and fight infection.
Based on the type of blood cells and the location of the appearance of cancer, blood cancer can be divided into three, namely:
Leukemia occurs when cells in the bone marrow don't develop normally. Unlike normal white blood cells which will die, leukemia cells continue to live, but do not help the body fight infection and instead suppress the development of other blood cells.
If the number increases, leukemia cells will enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs of the body, then blocking normal cells in the body from functioning normally.
Lymphoma attacks lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that function to fight infection and remove waste products of metabolism. In addition to the bone marrow, lymphocytes are found in the lymph nodes, thymus gland, spleen, and almost all parts of the body.
In patients with lymphoma, lymphocytes undergo mutations and grow uncontrollably. If lymphocytes are attacked by cancer, the body's resistance will decrease so that it is more susceptible to infection.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that attacks plasmocytes, which are part of the white blood cells that are responsible for producing antibodies to fight infection. When antibody production is disrupted, a person will be susceptible to infection.
Multiple myeloma occurs when abnormal plasma cells form in the bone marrow and grow rapidly. These abnormal cells continue to produce antibodies that cause damage to organs in the body, such as bones and kidneys.
Blood cancer risk factors
The exact cause of blood cancer is not known, but there are several factors that can increase a person's risk of developing blood cancer, namely:
- Male gender
- Aged over 55 years
- Have a family with blood cancer
- Suffer from an immune system disorder, such as HIV/AIDS
- Taking immunosuppressant drugs
- Infected with the Epstein-Barr virus or H. pylori bacteria
- Exposure to chemical compounds, such as pesticides
- Have a smoking habit
Symptoms of Blood Cancer
Symptoms of blood cancer vary greatly, depending on the type of blood cancer suffered. In some cases, the symptoms tend to be difficult to recognize, because they are similar to the symptoms of other conditions, such as the flu . However, common symptoms of blood cancer can include:
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Constipation or difficulty defecating
- Sore throat
- The body gets tired easily
- Night sweats
- Weight loss drastically
- Red spots on the skin
- Often infected
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
- Pain in the joints and bones, especially the spine or sternum
- Easy bruising and bleeding, such as nosebleeds
- Hard to breathe
When to see a doctor
Check with your doctor if you experience the above symptoms, especially if they often recur or don't get better. By checking yourself early, doctors can immediately provide treatment so that the development of the disease can be prevented.
Patients with blood cancer are expected to continue to be controlled by a hematologist , both while on treatment and after treatment is finished. The aim is to keep the progress of the disease monitored and detected earlier if the disease reappears.
As mentioned above, smoking is a risk factor for blood cancer. If you smoke and find it difficult to quit smoking, consult your doctor about joining a smoking cessation program.
Exposure to nuclear radiation and chemicals in the work environment is also at risk of causing blood cancer. As a precaution, each company has its own regulations regarding employee medical check - ups . Every employee is advised to follow these procedures periodically.
Diagnosis of Blood Cancer
The doctor will begin the examination by asking about the patient's symptoms, then carry out a physical examination to look for some signs of blood cancer, such as pale skin due to anemia , or swelling of the lymph nodes, liver and spleen .
If the patient is suspected of having blood cancer, the doctor will perform the following examinations:
The doctor will do a complete blood count test to find out the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The suspicion of blood cancer will be even stronger if the number of one or all types of blood cells is too much or too little, and abnormal blood cells are found.
In addition to a complete blood count, the doctor will check protein profiles, such as globulin, serum protein electrophoresis , and immunofixation, to detect multiple myeloma and the level of aggressiveness of cancer cells.
In patients with multiple myeloma , blood tests are also performed to determine kidney function , calcium levels, and uric acid levels.
Bone marrow aspiration
Bone marrow aspiration is performed by taking a tissue sample from the patient's bone marrow using a thin needle. The tissue sample will then be examined in a laboratory to see disturbances in the 'blood factory' and determine the type of blood cancer that is attacking the patient.
Lymph node biopsy
A lymph node biopsy is performed by taking a tissue sample from the swollen lymph nodes. Next, the tissue sample will be examined under a microscope.
Blood Cancer Treatment
After the patient is confirmed to have blood cancer, the doctor will discuss with the patient about the treatment steps that need to be taken. The treatment method chosen will depend on the type of cancer, as well as the patient's age and overall health.
The following are the treatment methods available to treat blood cancer:
- Chemotherapy , which is the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells, such as chlorambucil , can be in the form of drinking or by injection
- Radiotherapy , namely treatment using special beam radiation to destroy cancer cells and inhibit their development
- Bone marrow transplant , to replace damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow
Blood Cancer Complications
Blood cancer can cause serious complications if left untreated. Some of these complications are:
- The body often gets infections due to a lack of white blood cells
- Bleeding that can be life threatening, especially when it occurs in the brain, lungs, stomach, and intestines
- Bone disorders, including pain, calcification, and fractures
- Decreased kidney function or even kidney failure
Blood Cancer Prevention
Not yet known how to prevent blood cancer. However, the risk of this disease can be reduced by:
- Stop smoking
- Increase consumption of healthy nutritious foods
- Maintain ideal body weight with regular exercise
- Follow safety procedures and use personal protective equipment (PPE) when working in an environment that is at risk of exposure to radiation and chemical compounds, such as formaldehyde, pesticides , and benzene