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Blood Cancer: Types, Signs and Symptoms

Made up of five complex illnesses that fall under the same umbrella, while blood cancer has subtypes within this disease that are all very different, they also all have one thing in common: they affect how the body uses and produces blood.

Below is an overview of the five different types of blood cancers, signs and symptoms of the illness, as well as treatments.



This type of blood cancer is due to a rapid overwhelming production of white blood cells that are abnormal. As the most common type of blood cancer, it affects almost 45,000 Americans annually, and mostly occurs in those 55 years of age or older. It also happens to be common amongst kids that are under 15 years of age. There are four types of leukemia, and they include: acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and chronic myeloid leukemia.


This type of blood cancer occurs when abnormal lymphocytes (white blood cells) uncontrollably multiple and shock the lymphatic system, which is one element of a person’s immune system. This condition regularly develops within the lymph nodes; however, as lymph tissue exists in many organs within the body, lymphoma can come from pretty much any part of the body. There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s. While a person of any age can get either type of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s generally affects individuals who are over the age of 60; while those between the ages of 15-35 tend to get Hodgkin’s.

Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)

MDS develops when certain blood stem cells within a person’s bone marrow do not evolve into healthy blood cells. These immature cells, sometimes referred to as blasts, take up room within the blood or bone marrow and simply don’t work properly. As such, there is not enough room for healthy white or red blood cells and platelets to grow.

There are five different types of MDS a person can get. They include:


Refractory Anemia: This type of MDS happens due to inadequate numbers of red blood cells. This condition, in turn, falls into three separate conditions:

  • Ringed Sideroblasts – This occurs when there is too much iron within red blood cells along with a low count of red blood cells.
  • Excess Blasts – This occurs when there are not enough red blood cells and too many blasts. This condition also affects platelets and white blood cells. Sometimes excess blasts result in a condition known asacute myeloid leukemia.
  • Excess blasts in Transformation – This occurs via a profusion in blasts.

Refractory Cytopenia with Multilineage Dysplasia: With this illness, the body does not have enough of a minimum of two blood cell types.

MDS Associated with an Isolated Del(5q) Chromosome Abnormality: A genetic condition, it develops due to red blood cell shortages.

Unclassifiable MDS: This occurs when blasts are at normal range; however, one blood cell type is in shortage.

Myeloproliferative Disorder (MPD)

Myeloproliferative disorders (MPD) is a type of blood cancer where blood cells (i.e. white and red, as well as platelets) abnormally grow within the bone marrow. Much like the other categories of blood cancers, it too has differing types, depending on the kind of blood cell that is overproducing within the body.

Generally, MPD has one kind of blood cell overproducing more than the others, but there are times when two or more are involved.

Types of MPD include:

Chronic Eosinophilic Leukemia: This type of MPD is uncommon, but develops when there are too many eosinophils, a kind of white blood cell within the bone marrow.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia: This condition deals with the overproduction of granulocytes, a white blood cell, within the bone marrow.

Chronic Neutrophilic Leukemia: This uncommon condition deals with the growth around too many granulocytic or neutrophils white blood cells.

Essential Thrombocythemia: This condition deals with the abnormal growth of platelets, which will make a person’s blood become sticky. As a result, blood vessels can get clogged, which can result in a stroke or heart attack.

Polycythemia Vera: This is a result of too many red blood cells. It’s strongly linked with a genetic mutation.

Primary Myelofibrosis: Sometimes referred to as chronic idiopathic myelofibrosis, this condition occurs as a result of too much collagen. This limits the production blood cells in general, within the bone marrow.


Last, but certainly not least, we have the blood cancer of myeloma. This condition deals with plasma cells that create antibodies to battle infection and diseases within the body. Myeloma develops when there is build up of abnormal plasma cells, referred to as myeloma cells, in the bone marrow which end up forming tumors on bones.

The tumors that form is referred to as plasmacytomas, and can end up preventing the bone marrow from producing adequate blood cells that are healthy.

When a plasma cell tumor is on its own, doctors refer to this as plasmacytoma; when two or more are there, the condition is referred to as multiple myeloma.

As the most common type of plasma cell cancer, myeloma is also referred to as: multiple myeloma, myelomatosis, kahler disease, and plasma cell myeloma.

Approximately 24,000 Americans are diagnosed with myeloma annually, and behind leukemia and lymphoma, it remains one of the most common of the blood cancers.

Signs and Symptoms

While each blood cancer type differs in condition, the interesting thing is that they all share similar signs and symptoms.

Some patients may not show any signs or symptoms until the condition has progressed, and often times they confuse symptoms to be a flu or a severe cold.

Some signs and symptoms of blood cancer include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash or itchy skin
  • Frequent infections
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Painless, but swollen, lymph nodes in the groin, neck, or armpits


As with any type of cancer, treatment for this condition relies heavily on which kind of blood cancer you have, how fast the illness has progressed, the patient’s age, as well as other health factors.

Below is an overview of blood cancer treatments:

Stem Cell Transplant

This treatment infuses blood-forming stem cells that are healthy, into the body. These healthy stem cells may be gathered from circulating (peripheral) blood, bone marrow, or an umbilical cord.


This type of treatment is also widely used among other types of cancers. Anticancer drugs have been designed to stop the growth of cancer cells. When it comes to blood cancer patients, chemotherapy may consist of several of these drugs together for a set routine, and can be administered before a stem cell transplant.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is also a treatment that is used for other cancers, as well as blood. It aims to kill cancer cells, and helps to relieve patients of their painful symptoms. Much like chemotherapy, this treatment too can be used before a stem cell transplant.