Word on Health

Word On Blood Cancer

Our grateful thanks to the charity Bloodwise for their contribution to our on-air report, which you can hear further down this page and for the use of the information below. Their website provides far more detailed information - which you can access here. 

There are three main types of blood cancer

  • leukaemia
  • lymphoma
  • myeloma

Within these main groups, there are many different types of conditions - this is particularly the case for leukaemia and lymphoma.

Most blood cancers start in the bone marrow, where blood is made. Many different types of blood cells are made in the bone marrow: broadly speaking, the type of blood cancer you have depends on the type of blood cell that's affected.
In most blood cancers, the affected blood cells stop developing in the normal way and become cancerous. This leads to you having either too many or not enough of the affected type of blood cell. These abnormal blood cells, or cancerous cells, stop your blood doing what it normally does, such as fighting off infections. It's this that makes you feel unwell.

Who gets blood cancer? All blood cancers are caused by faults in certain genes. Unlike other cancers, the factors that contribute to blood cancer developing are largely things we can't control, such as age.

  • Blood cancers can affect anyone, at any point in their life: with some exceptions, most types are more common in older people though.
  • Some types of blood cancer are slightly more common in women than men and vice versa.
  • Some types of blood cancer are slightly more common in some ethnicities.
  • Blood cancer rarely runs in the families.
  • Sometimes treatment for a previous cancer or lowered immunity can contribute to you getting blood cancer.
  • Although researchers are looking into links blood cancer may have with some infections and viruses, you can't catch blood cancer.
  • There are no known links between blood cancer and lifestyle factors such as diet, or environmental factors such as radiation - unless at a level you'd never be exposed to in everyday life.

Symptoms It’s important to remember that not everyone will have the same (or even any) symptoms. Each person is different. There are many different types of symptoms which might lead a GP or hospital team to suspect blood cancer.
The symptoms you get tend to be linked to the type of blood cell which is behaving abnormally. Blood cancer symptoms can be quite vague and many of them are common with things like colds - for example tiredness, fever or an infection. Lumps are a common symptom of lymphoma, but again lumps are a common symptom of other, less serious illnesses.
Because of this, it's important to consult your GP if you have symptoms (or groups of symptoms) which you think are very unusual for you, or last for longer than normal. It’s important to remember that some people may have very few symptoms or no symptoms at all. Each individual is different, and will have a different experience. If you're worried about or have been diagnosed with a certain type of blood cancer, select it in the menu above to find more specific information about symptoms.

Treatments for blood cancer usually involve one of – or a combination of – chemotherapy or biological therapies (drugs which act on abnormal processes going on in cells). In some cases people may have radiotherapy, other drugs or stem cell transplants. Other people may never need treatment.

Living with blood cancer There’s a lot of support you – and those close to you – might need if you’ve been diagnosed with a blood cancer. As well as medical information about your condition, other information will be important – such as how to tell people, how to look after yourself emotionally and physically and practical advice about things like finances. Bloodwise have gathered all of that information for you. Their support line team are just a phone call or email away if you’d like to talk. They’re available Monday-Friday 10am-4pm on 0808 2080 888 or at support@bloodwise.org.uk.



Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.