Haematological cancers refer to the malignancy of the blood, bone marrow and the lymph nodes that include cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. While leukaemia and lymphoma are observed both in children and adults, multiple myeloma is rarely observed in children and is found in adults above the age of 50.
Leukaemia is the cancer of the white blood cells that may start either from the white blood cells or other blood cells. The different types of leukaemia include acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML) and the leukaemia of children.
Lymphoma is the cancer of the immune cells of the body that affects the immune system. Lymphoma is of the following types namely the Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in children, and lymphoma of the skin. Multiple myeloma is a malignancy of the plasma cells.
The signs and symptoms of haematological cancer are:
- Continuous high fever and weakness
- Decreased immunity because of the malignancy of the immune cells
- Unusual bleeding and infection
- Difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath
- Bone pain
- Weight loss due to poor appetite
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Appearance or red spots or patches on the skin
- A headache and mood fluctuations
Haematological cancer mostly occurs due to genetic variations. Mutations in certain genes are also a cause of this cancer. Both parents with a defective gene double the risk of developing haematological cancer in the child.
The exact risk factors for haematological cancer are not known. However, certain factors are known to increase the risk of this cancer. They are smoking, heavy consumption of alcohol, exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene, frequent exposure to radiations, infections, a family history of haematological cancers or other cancers, age, gender, etc.
Complete blood count: A complete blood picture provides information to the physician regarding the parameters of the blood. It shows the various parameters of the blood cells and provides an overall view of the health of the patient.
Bone marrow aspiration: The sample collected from the soft tissues of the bones. It is usually collected from the hip bone. The test is performed by insertion of a long needle into the bone and the sample is drawn out. It provides information regarding the disease condition of the patients.
X-ray scan: The x-ray scan helps to detect the spread of infection to the bones and other body parts.
Bone marrow biopsy: The sample is drawn out usually less and is collected from the shoulder bone or the sternum. The bone marrow sample is then placed under the microscope to detect the change in the shape and size of the blood cells.
The treatment of haematological cancer includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and bone marrow transplant surgery.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer using anti-cancer agents. These drugs are administered either through oral route or through an intravenous route of administration. Chemotherapy is an effective method of treating patients with all kinds of haematological malignancies such as leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses highly effective radiations to treat haematological cancer. It is given along with chemotherapy and surgery for better result of malignancy.
Surgery: Bone marrow transplant surgery or stem cell transplant surgery is performed when the standard doses of chemotherapy are not effective in treating haematological cancer. Long-term use of the standard dose of chemotherapy leads to damage to the bone marrow.
There are two types of bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant. They are allogeneic stem cell transplant and autologous stem cell transplant. The allogeneic stem cell transplant involves receiving the stem cells of another person who may be the father or mother or the sibling of the patients. The autologous cell transplant is the transfer of the stem cells back to the same individual.
Coping and support
You may feel distressed because of the cancer diagnosis. But, you should find ways to cope with the disease and the treatment for better outcomes and good quality-of-life. As this cancer mostly affects children, it is the parents who have to provide moral support to the child for the speedy recovery of the child.
Learn about the disease and the treatment options available, so that you can make decisions for your care. You may need physical and emotional support when you are in the hospital or after returning home. So, keep your family and friends close and make them understand your condition.