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September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month

To better understand blood cancer, its causes, and how it is treated, we spoke with Dr. Anas Al-Janadi with Spectrum Health.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Blood cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal blood cells in the body. These cancerous cells prevent the blood from performing many of its functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. 

To better understand blood cancer, its causes, and how it is treated, we spoke with Dr. Anas Al-Janadi, Vice President and Department Chief of Spectrum Health Cancer Center. He explained that there are three common types of blood cancer:

  • Leukemia, a type of cancer found in your blood and bone marrow, is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. The high number of abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection, and they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.
  • Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. Abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells, which multiply and collect in your lymph nodes and other tissues. Over time, these cancerous cells impair your immune system.
  • Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body's immune system weakened and susceptible to infection.

Dr. Al-Janadi shared some of the more common signs and symptoms that might indicate blood cancer.

  • Coughing or chest pain. Possible cause is a buildup of abnormal blood cells in your spleen.
  • Frequent infections. Possible cause is not enough white blood cells to fight off routine pathogens.
  • Fever or chills. Possible cause is not enough white blood cells, leading to more frequent infections.
  • Unexplained rash, bruising, or bleeding. Possible cause is not enough platelets, which are the cells that help the blood to clot.
  • Itchy skin. Possible causes remain unknown.
  • Loss of appetite or nausea. Possible cause is a buildup of abnormal blood cells in your spleen so that it presses on your stomach.
  • Night sweats. Possible causes remain unknown.
  • Persistent weakness and fatigue. Possible cause is not enough red blood cells (anemia).
  • Shortness of breath. Possible cause is anemia.
  • Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin. Possible cause is a build-up of abnormal white blood cells in your lymph glands.

Dr. Al-Janadi said treatment of blood cancers depends on several factors. These include the type of blood cancer you have, your age, how fast the cancer is progressing, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Treatments may include:

  • Chemotherapy: Anticancer drugs are introduced to the body (via injection into the vein or sometimes by taking a pill) to kill and halt the production of cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: This form of cancer treatment uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapies: This form of cancer treatment uses drugs that specifically kill malignant blood cells, without harming normal cells. Targeted therapies are most commonly used to treat leukemia.
  • Stem cell transplantation: Healthy stem cells can be infused into your body to help resume healthy blood production following therapy to destroy malignant blood cells.
  • Cancer Surgery: This treatment involves removing the affected lymph nodes to treat some lymphomas.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment activates the immune system to specifically kill cancer cells.

You can find more information about blood cancer at https://www.spectrumhealth.org/services/cancer/blood-cancer.

The local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is hosting its annual Light the Night on Thursday, October 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s at Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids and is a time to gather as a community to celebrate, honor, and remember those touched by blood cancers. 

Friends, families, schools, corporate teams, and sponsors join together to bring light to the darkness of cancer. The funds raised will go toward lifesaving research, advocacy and support for blood cancer patients and their families. More information at www.lls.org/event/grand-rapidslakeshore-2022.

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