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What is blood cancer?

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

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Blood cancer is a term used to describe cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow or lymphatic systems. Most blood cancers begin in the bone marrow (the spongy tissue found inside the bones) which is where blood is created.

Stem cells in the marrow mature and are meant to turn into red cells, white cells or platelets. When someone has a blood cancer, this process is disrupted by the uncontrolled growth of a cell and this prevents the blood from performing its usual functions, such as fighting infections.

Here are ten things that you may not know about blood cancer:

1. There are 137 different types of blood cancer and related disorders. The most common are leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

2. 34,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer in the UK each year. This means that every 15 minutes someone in the UK is told that they have a blood cancer.

3. Blood cancers, collectively, are the fifth most common form of cancer after breast, lung, prostate and bowel cancer.

4. The symptoms of blood cancer are vague and can often be linked to other, less serious illnesses like the flu. Common symptoms include fatigue, night sweats, joint pain, bruising, recurrent infections, unexplained weight loss and enlarged lymph nodes.

5. Due to the non-specific symptoms of blood cancer, over 30% of all blood cancer patients are diagnosed in an emergency setting. This could mean that they are diagnosed whilst in A&E, via an emergency GP referral or as an emergency admission.

6. With over 40,000 registered GPs practising in the UK, the average GP will see fewer than eight new cases of cancer per year, most will be a more common form of cancer, and less than one a year will be a blood cancer. 

7. Over 8,600 people are diagnosed with leukaemia every year in the UK. There are four main types of leukaemia:

Acute leukaemia’s progress rapidly but can be treated and often cured in younger or fitter patients. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is more common in children aged 0-15. In comparison, chronic leukaemias progress more slowly, are more common in older patients and although they cannot always be cured they can usually be managed with treatment options.

8. There are 35 different types of lymphoma and in the UK there are around 14,700 people diagnosed each year.  It is the most common form of blood cancer in young people aged 15 – 24. There are two main types of lymphoma:

The difference between the two is important because the treatment for Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be very different.

9. There are around 4,900 people diagnosed with myeloma every year in the UK. There are several different types of myeloma, which are classified depending on the type of immunoglobulin, a protein, produced by the myeloma cells.

10. There are many different kinds of treatments that clinicians use to help blood cancer patients that either target the disease directly or manage its symptoms. These include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, blood transfusions, surgery, biological therapies and cancer-targeted therapies.  Sometimes it is not necessary for a patient to receive treatment at all – this is called ‘watch and wait’. The treatment a patient receives depends on their condition, age, fitness level as well as other factors.


Read Comments

  • Comment by...
    Anonymous January 11 at 7:42pm

    I thought I knew most of the facts about myeloma but there were a couple of new ones here. Very informative and not too heavy.

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