8 Symptoms of Blood Cancer
What is blood cancer? Blood cancer is a broad term that is used to describe cancer that affects the function and production of blood cells in the body. Most blood cancer starts in the bone marrow (the area where blood is produced). When abnormal blood cells start to grow uncontrollably, blood cancer occurs and interrupts the functioning of normal blood cells that defend against infection and produce new blood cells, leading to an array of symptoms.
There are three main types of blood cancers.
This type of blood cancer is found in the blood and bone marrow and is caused by rapid abnormal white blood cell production. These abnormal white blood cells are unable to fight off infection, and they interfere with the bone marrow’s ability to produce platelets and red blood cells.
Lymphoma (Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s)
This type of blood cancer affects the lymphatic system, which is responsible for removing excess fluid from the body, in addition to producing immune cells. Lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) help to fight infection in the body. Abnormal lymphocytes turn into lymphoma cells and then multiply and end up collecting in the lymph nodes and other body tissues. Eventually, these cancerous cells interfere with the body’s immune system.
Myeloma (Multiple Myeloma)
This type of blood cancer affects the plasma cells, which are white blood cells that make antibodies to fight infection and disease in the body. Myeloma cells interfere with the normal production of these antibodies, weakening the immune system.
Top 8 Symptoms of Blood Cancer
The symptoms of blood cancer vary depending on the type of blood cancer. Below we will discuss eight common symptoms of blood cancer that shouldn’t be ignored.
1. Unintentional Weight Loss
If you are not trying to lose weight but notice that you are losing weight, you should speak to your doctor. Cancer cells can cause your body to alter its metabolism, which can reduce muscle mass and fat, leading to a drop in weight.
2. Easy Bleeding or Unexplained Bruising
If you notice new bleeding from your nose or gums, heavy periods, blood in your stool or urine, or excessive bleeding after a minor injury, speak to your doctor. Additionally, if you notice tiny red spots under your skin (petechiae), particularly if they start on your legs, you should bring this to your doctor’s attention. These symptoms may be the result of a low levels of platelets, as platelets help the blood to clot efficiently.
3. Breathing Difficulties
If you notice that you are short of breath (even when you are not exerting yourself), feeling lightheaded, like you are going to faint, or have a rapid heartbeat, speak to your doctor. This could be due to anemia, a condition in which there are decreased levels of red blood cells.
4. Night Sweats
Regularly waking up drenched in sweat is a symptom that should not be ignored. While researchers have not yet determined why this happens in patients with blood cancer, some people with leukemia and lymphoma have reported this symptom.
5. Swelling or Lumps
Swelling or lumps in your neck, armpit, or groin, that are often painless, should warrant a visit to your doctor’s office. In some cases when the lumps or swelling compress internal organs they can cause pain or other symptoms. The swelling and lumps are caused by the buildup of white blood cells in the lymphatic system.
6. Recurrent or Severe Infections That Are Hard to Fight Off
If you are suffering from recurrent or persistent infections, feeling flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, sore throat and cough, or are experiencing mouth ulcers that will not go away, you should speak with your doctor. These symptoms may occur due to low levels of white blood cells, which may impair your body’s ability to fight off infection.
7. Itchy Skin or Strange, Unexplained Rashes
If you notice small red spots (petechiae) on the skin, or a purple rash (purpura), speak to your doctor. This may be caused by low levels of platelets in the body. Additionally, itching or burning sensations should also be discussed with your doctor. While it is unknown why itching occurs, some people with blood cancer have reported this symptom.
8. Extreme Fatigue
If you have unexplained, extreme fatigue that persists despite being well rested, or if you are feeling faint and suffering with headaches, speak with your doctor. This could be due to anemia, a condition in which there are low levels of red blood cells.
Blood cancer accounts for approximately 10% of all diagnosed cancers in the U.S, each year. The symptoms associated with blood cancer range depending on the type of blood cancer. If you notice any new or worrisome symptoms, such as those outlined above, it is worth making an appointment to discuss them with your doctor to determine if they are being caused by blood cancer. Keep in mind that earlier treatment can help improve treatment outcomes, so do not put off talking with your doctor about any concerning symptoms you are experiencing.