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Blood Cancers

Blood cancers affect the production and function of your blood cells. Most of these cancers start in your bone marrow where blood is produced. Stem cells in your bone marrow mature and develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. In most blood cancers, the normal blood cell development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. These abnormal blood cells, or cancerous cells, prevent your blood from performing many of its functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding.

There are three main types of blood cancers:

Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer found in your blood and bone marrow and is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection and impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.

Leukemia can be either acute or chronic. Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly than acute leukemia, which requires immediate treatment. Leukemia is also classified as lymphocytic or myelogenous. Lymphocytic leukemia refers to abnormal cell growth in the marrow cells that become lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a role in the immune system. In myelogenous leukemia, abnormal cell growth occurs in the marrow cells that mature into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. There are four broad classifications of leukemia:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)

Leukemia occurs in both adults and children.

Lymphoma

About half of the blood cancers that occur each year are lymphomas, or cancers of the lymphatic system. This system – composed of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, groin, chest, and abdomen – removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. Abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infection, become lymphoma cells, which multiply and collect in your lymph nodes. Over time, these cancerous cells impair your immune system.

Lymphomas are divided into two categories: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. About 12 percent of people with lymphoma have Hodgkin lymphoma. Because of,this once fatal diagnosis has been transformed into a curable condition. Most non-Hodgkin lymphomas are B-cell lymphomas, and either grow quickly (high-grade) or slowly (low-grade). There are over a dozen types of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The rest are T-cell lymphomas, named after a different cancerous white blood cell, or lymphocyte.

Myeloma

It is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body’s immune system weakened and susceptible to infection. 

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