“From childhood I heard several stories about my uncle who was a brilliant student with a bright future ahead. His talent was not solely confined to academics; he was good in sports and art too. All of his teachers hoped that one day he would glorify our small town with his talents. But all his talents could not see him through Leukemia! After battling against this killer disease for eight months, he succumbed. A misfortunate story of a talented life cut short by blood cancer.”
- Sujit Das, Pune
More than 40% among all new cancer cases reported annually are blood cancer cases. The nightmare story narrated by Sujit, is a reality for many thousand relatives. But the advancement in medical science means the mortality rates for blood cancer patients is at its all time low. Only 3% of all reported cases in 2016 led to death. So, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. But timely medical intervention is often the key for cure from this disease.
Knowing the disease
Blood cancer is a generic term used to depict cancer of blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. The red cell functioning of patients suffering from this disease is hampered. Blood cancer attacks the bone marrow, which is the production house of blood cells. The stem cell of the bone marrow matures and develops into three blood cell types – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Blood cancer leads to uncontrollable production of blood cells which hampers immune functions (such as fighting against various infections) and preventing excessive bleeding.
Categories of Blood Cancer
Blood cancer is a broad term used to mention three main groups of cancer, these are:
- Leukemia (Cancer of blood and bone marrow): In this disease the production of white blood cell increases rapidly and uncontrollably minimizing the production of red blood cells and bone marrow drastically. Leukemia hampers the body’s immune system and makes it incapable of coping with any infection. Over time, even a small infection can become an immense concern.
- Lymphoma (Cancer of Lymphatic System): Lymphatic system which produces immune cell and removes excess fluids from the body is affected in Lymphoma. The cancerous lymphoma cells lead to the collapse of entire immune system.
- Myeloma (Cancer of Plasma Cells): Plasma cells are responsible for producing anti-bodies, which help the body fight against various diseases and infections. With the weakening of the immune system, the body becomes vulnerable to any infection.
Symptoms of Blood Cancer:
It is very hard to identify the symptoms of blood cancer as most of them are alike general ailments. They can be identified by monitoring the frequency and continuity of the ailments. Some of the indications include:
- Fever with chills
- Persistent fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite and the feeling of nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Bone or joint pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Itchy skin or skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin
Path to Cure
There are various treatments for blood cancer; one chosen for the patient depends on the category and stage of the disease. The choice of treatment may also vary as per the part of the body affected as well as the spread of the disease. Doctors suggest the best possible treatment after analyzing all the factors. Some of the common treatments include:
- Chemotherapy: Here, the intention is to destroy the cancerous cells with the aid of drugs. The drugs pushed into the body are aimed at putting the cancerous cells into remission or slowing down their progression significantly. There are many varieties of Chemotherapy drugs available, and each of them works in a slightly different way. So, the doctors may prescribe a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs, as deemed necessary. When the drug mixes in the bloodstream in will attack the cancerous cells, which grow at a higher speed than the normal cells. Though, in the course of this treatment some of the healthy cells may also be destroyed leading to side effects such as nausea, tiredness and hair loss. There are cases where Radiotherapy may be clubbed together with the drugs for faster and better results.
- Radiotherapy: In this process, patients are exposed to high energy x-rays, passed through a machine called ‘linear accelerator’, which are intended at killing the cancerous cells. The doctor has to decide on the amount of radiation required for the patient and the area where the ray should be given. This is why it is important to choose the Radiotherapy centre after much deliberation. The centre should have a reputed doctor, radiologist and physicist. Radiotherapy is an effective treatment for leukemia and lymphoma. It is also used as a conditioning therapy to prepare a patient for bone marrow and stem cell treatment. During this treatment some healthy cells in the affected area will also be destroyed, leading to certain side effects. Such side effects will pass within a few weeks after the culmination of this treatment.
- Bone Marrow Transplant: Depending on the stage of cancer, patient’s age and general health, the doctor may suggest this transplant. In the bone marrow transplant, the stem cells are collected from a donor’s bone marrow. The donor can be blood related or one whose tissue types match with the patient. The process involves a collection of bone marrow from the pelvis area of the donor through incision after administration of general anesthesia. Prior to this transplant, the patients have to go through Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells and then build a new immune system for the patient.
- Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cells form the primary bases of the body, as they are the cells from which other cells, tissues and organs are developed. Just like typical blood donation, stem cells are collected from the blood samples of a donor. Through the transplant, healthy stem cells are infused into the body of the patient which in turn stimulates new bone marrow growth. Such a process reduces risks of cancer and the possibility of cancer recurrence.
Life after Treatment
After the doctor ascertains that the cancerous cells have been effectively neutralized, the road to recovery will commence. A detailed nutrition chart is provided to the patient to retain required body nutrition. Scheduled visits to the doctor are also essential post-treatment.