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Most people don’t give much thought to the health of their blood until something like a cancer diagnosis, anemia or a clotting disorder wakes them up to the importance of the blood stream. Hematologists are dedicated to the study of blood, and many people find themselves needing the help of this specialized physician at some point.
Hematologists are physicians that follow their board certification in internal medicine with at least two years of specialty training in which they study a range of blood disorders. Doctors with a dual certification in hematology and medical oncology follow their basic internal medicine residency with three years of combined fellowship training.
Hematologists treat conditions that involve problems with “the red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, blood vessels, bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, and the proteins involved in bleeding and clotting (hemostasis and thrombosis),” according to the American Society of Hematology. Examples include:
As part of the Revere Health patient care team, hematologists work in close collaboration with surgeons, radiation oncologists and other specialists to care for adults and children with blood diseases, including cancers of the blood and bone marrow.
Let’s look at three of the most common cancers of the blood.
Leukemia occurs in both adults and children. This type of cancer found in the blood and bone marrow is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells called leukemic cells. This impairs the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets. Acute leukemia requires immediate treatment, and chronic leukemia progresses more slowly.
Common symptoms include:
A complete blood count (CBC) is used to diagnose leukemia. A positive result is followed by a bone marrow biopsy to determine the type of leukemia.
Treatment plans are individualized to meet the unique needs of the patient. Recommendations are based on the specific type of leukemia, as well as the age and health of the patient. A combination of treatments might be used including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, and stem cell transplantation.
About half of the blood cancers that occur each year are lymphomas, or cancers of the lymphatic system, reports the American Society of Hematology. The lymphatic system is comprised of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin, chest and abdomen. Lymph nodes remove excess fluids from the body and produces immune cells.
Lymphoma occurs when abnormal lymphocytes – a white blood cell that fights infection – become cancerous lymphoma cells, which build up in the lymph nodes and damage the immune system. Lymphomas are classified as either Hodgkin lymphoma, accounting for about 12 percent of cases, or non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “Classifying non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) can be quite confusing (even for doctors) because there are so many types and because several different systems have been used,” explains the American Cancer Society. While each situation is different, common symptoms of lymphoma include:
A lymph node biopsy is used to diagnose lymphoma, followed by additional staging tests that might include blood tests, bone marrow biopsies and imaging tests to detect if the lymphoma has spread. This guides an oncologist’s treatment decisions, which might include chemotherapy, radiation, biological therapies and stem cell transplant, depending on the patient’s health and treatment goals.
This cancer of the plasma cells interferes with the body’s ability to produce antibodies, leaving the immune system weakened and susceptible to infection. The multiplication of myeloma cells can cause kidney damage and bone destruction, leading to bone pain and sometimes fractures.
Common symptoms of myeloma include:
Treatments can help slow the growth of the myeloma cells and relieve the fatigue, bone pain and other symptoms. Options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunomodulators (drugs that target specific areas of the immune system), anemia drugs and stem cell transplant. Since each person’s situation is different, following a myeloma diagnosis, a patient’s cancer care team collaborates to develop a treatment plan that offers the best chance for recovery.
Are you or a loved one faced with the challenge of a cancer diagnosis? Revere Health offers specialists in both Medical Oncology and Hematology-Oncology that provide patient-centered cancer treatment using the latest technologies. We work with you to determine the best treatment options for your unique condition and continue to adjust and monitor your dosage or care throughout your treatment.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.