Frequently Asked Questions about Blood Cancer

Q: What are the different types of blood cancers?

There are three major types of blood cancers, lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma, which also have different variations of the disease within each category.

  • Lymphoma: This cancer affects the lymphatic system, which is what keeps body fluids clean and free from infection. There are two general types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, where the cancer spreads from one group of lymph nodes to another in a certain order, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma where it spreads to lymph nodes randomly.

  • Leukemia: A cancer of the blood cells, leukemia occurs when the cells become abnormal and grow out of control, eventually outnumbering the healthy blood cells. It begins in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. The disease can either be acute or chronic.  

  • Multiple Myeloma: A cancer of the bone marrow, multiple myeloma results from abnormal growth of plasma cells. Plasma cells produce antibodies, but as malignant plasma cells multiply so do abnormal antibodies, which then collect in the blood and urine. The growth of the plasma cell tumor eventually destroys the bone around it and leads to bone pain, kidney damage, and a weakened immune system.

Q: Is there a way to prevent blood cancers?

There is no known cause for any of the blood cancers so there is no way to prevent them. However, you can reduce your risk of leukemia by avoiding exposure to benzene and high levels of radiation and by not smoking.

Q: What are the symptoms of blood cancers?

  • Lymphoma: The most common symptoms of lymphoma include: painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin, persistent fatigue, night sweating, coughing, unexplained fever, weight loss, itching, and loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.

  • Leukemia: Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia and where in the body the cancer cells are located. The major symptoms include: fever or night sweats, flu-like symptoms, minor cuts that heal slowly, feeling weak or tired, headache, pale skin, excessive reaction to insect bites, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, and small red spots under the skin.

  • Multiple Myeloma: In the early stages of multiple myeloma there is often persistent, severe bone pain usually in the back and sometimes in the arms, legs, or ribs. As the disease progresses, other symptoms may appear, including: weakness, broken bones, fatigue, repeat infections, nausea and vomiting, constipation, headache, abnormal bleeding, difficulty urinating, visual problems, and confusion.

Q: What are the risk factors for blood cancers?

  • Lymphoma: Males are more likely to get lymphoma than females, usually at the ages of 15-40 and over the age of 55. A family history of lymphoma, a personal history with mononucleosis, or infection with the Epstein-Barr virus which causes mononucleosis also increases your risk for developing lymphoma. A weakened immune system, especially those with an HIV or AIDs infection are also more at risk.

  • Leukemia: Leukemia is most common in people over 60-years-old. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy for a previous cancer may increase your risk of developing the disease. Some diseases such as Down syndrome and Myelodysplastic syndrome as well as exposure to benzene and tobacco smoke are also thought to be related to leukemia. Additionally, leukemia is the most common cancer in children aged 0-7.

  • Multiple Myeloma: Multiple myeloma is most common in people over 50-years-old.  There are slightly increased risks in males and African-Americans.  There are uncommon family clusters of multiple myeloma, suggesting that some risk factors can be inherited, but these have not been identified yet.

Q: Is there a screening process for blood cancers?

There is no regular screening process for blood cancers. Tests for blood cancer are considered after your doctor has ruled out other possible causes of your symptoms.

Q: How are blood cancers treated?

Treatment for blood cancer depends on several factors including: the type of cancer, age, disease progression rate, where it has spread, the symptoms, and other health conditions. The treatment options for the different types of blood cancers are as follows:

  • Lymphoma:
    • Hodgkin Lymphoma: Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Stem Cell Transplantation
    • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Biological Therapy, Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Stem Cell Transplantation

  • Leukemia: Biological therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplantation, target therapy

  • Multiple Myeloma: Chemotherapy, stem cell therapy, radiation therapy

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