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Understanding haematology cancers

 

Why are they different?

Haematological cancers can be different in nature to other cancers and sometimes difficult to understand.

 

Breast cancer is an example of a non-Haematological cancer which is easier to understand. Breast cancer forms in breast tissue. It is usually picked up as a lump in the breast and often treatment involves removing the lump of cancerous cells from the breast with an operation. Breast cancer if not caught early can spread from the breast to surrounding lymph nodes Small oval bodies of the bodies defence system, that are clustered in the armpits, groin, neck, chest and abdomen. They are normally filled with white blood cells. under the armpit and then to further away to places like the liver and bone.

 

Haematological cancers are often different in nature. With some leukaemias the problem arises in the bone marrow. The bone marrowBone marrow is a soft spongy material which is inside bones. The outside of bones are hard and protective but the inside plays a different role. Bone marrow makes new blood cells. is the spongy material that is found inside bone and makes new blood cells. Therefore a patient would never feel a lump in the same way as in breast cancer described above. A patient may notice symptoms which are a result of the bone marrow not working in the normal way. For example they way feel tired, short of breath, bruise easily and have infections. These are all general symptoms which affect the whole body. Treatment is also different in leukaemias as it would be impossible to perform an operation to remove the cancerous cells from inside several different bones. Therefore chemotherapy is the key to treatment as it can work on several different places as once.

 

Why can they affect several parts of the body?

Some Haematological cancers such as myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can affect many different parts of the body. With lymphoma the cancer affects the lymphoid system. So unlike breast cancer which initially only affects one organ- the breast, lymphomas can affect several different parts of the lymphoid system. So patients may notice lumps in the neck due to swollen lymph nodes. They may notice lumps in the abdomen due to their liver and spleen becoming enlarged- all manifestations of the same original problem.

 

Again this affects treatment as it would be impossible to surgically remove all these areas of abnormal cells. However surgery is sometimes performed, for example if there is a large group of cancerous cells located around the bowel. But again chemotherapy is the key treatment as it is good at targeting several different parts of the body at the same time.

 

In myeloma plasma cells become cancerous. Normally plasma cells produce cells which help fight infection. In myeloma when plasma cells become cancerous they produce too many cells in an unorganised manner, this process occurs all around the body. The cancerous cells can fill up the bone marrowBone marrow is a soft spongy material which is inside bones. The outside of bones are hard and protective but the inside plays a different role. Bone marrow makes new blood cells. stopping it from working, they can also thin bone and affect the kidneys.

So unlike breast cancer there is no one place where the cancer cells start and progress to form a lump. In myeloma there are typically several different parts of the body affected from the same original problem. Again this is why with myeloma operations are less commonly used to remove cancerous cells as there is not one original lump to remove.

 

 

 

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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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