Blood cancer is the general term that covers a variety of blood diseases.
Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma are the three types of blood cancer.
Virtually every type of cancer begins with a rogue or mutated gene, the same applies to blood cancer.
A single drop of blood contains about 500,000 white blood cells and over 200 million red blood cells, to maintain this number, the body needs to constantly produce and recycle the cells. The average lifespan of red blood cells is 100-120 days and white blood cells between 13-20 days, so it is expected and essential that this cycle of old cells dying and the regeneration of new cells be maintained.
The production of new cells happens in the bone marrow and the bone marrow contains stem cells that make all the cells found in the blood. The cells continuously divide and make copies of themselves. In the process of division, a cell that contains an error in the DNA will pass the error to other cells and then they begin to grow uncontrollably and live beyond the expected lifespan.
Risk factors of Blood Cancer
Blood cancer just like every other cancer is deadly but survival rates and treatments have improved in recent years. Blood cancers affect adults as well as children but the risk increases with age. The average age is from 65 years and above but some other times it’s diagnosed in younger people below 20 years.
Some other risk factors include:
Being male: although there may not be clear reasons why males are more likely to have leukaemia than women but statistics, however, shows that males at almost any age are more at risk.
Haematologic disease/Certain blood disorder: People who already have existing blood disorders like anaemia, HIV and sickle cell can easily develop blood cancer.
Radiation: high energy radiation (ionizing radiation) has the ability to break through certain chemical bonds and damage DNA in cells.
Smoking: the poisons in cigarette smoke can weaken the immune system and make it difficult to kill cancer cells. Poisons in tobacco smoke can also damage the DNA.
Genetics: blood cancer is a genetic disease, it starts with an error in DNA cells, scientists believe these genetic mutations are genetic may not be hereditary.
Chemical exposure: long-term exposure to industrial chemicals, pesticide, insecticide are a high risk for developing blood cancer.
Chemotherapy drugs: one risk of chemotherapy to treat cancer is that it may destroy other normal healthy cells, thereby causing damage to the bone marrow stem cells.
Autoimmune disorders: autoimmune disease results from when the immune system that is meant to protect the body against threats now turns against the body and harms it. People with autoimmune diseases are likely to develop blood cancer.
Symptoms of Blood Cancer
- Tiredness and exhaustion
- Excessive sweating especially at night with a fever
- Sore bones and joints
- Terrible bruising and unusual bleeding
- Recurrent infection
- Unintentional weight loss
- Decreased urination and difficulty urinating
World Blood Cancer Awareness Day (28th May) is an annual effort to support people living with or diagnosed with blood cancer.
One of the most popular treatments for blood cancer is stem cell transplant, each year about 80,000 people seek a stem cell donor, most times, some of them are lucky to have a family member who is a perfect match, others who do not keep managing the disease until a perfect match donor is found.
The essence of these awareness day is to celebrate the donors and seek support for more donors to help the diagnosed and patients survive the disease.
A doctor shared a story about how a patient saved her life from cancer. She went to the doctor for a minor skin reaction and he gave her a prescription for the eczema she had and just before she left she asked, by the way, what do you think about this lump? He took a look at it and immediately referred her to an oncologist and then they realised the lump was cancerous and the eczema was also an early symptom of her stomach cancer.
The essence of this short story is to say that you have to be your own advocate, observe your body and look out for unusual and recurring symptoms, reactions and feelings, itchy skin etc
The survival rate of cancers is always high when it’s detected early.
Join this campaign by becoming a registered stem cell donor or by encouraging others to. Sharing this article is also a form of showing support for the blood cancer awareness day.