Cancer develops when cells in the body multiply out of control. Blood contains three kinds of cells: red cells, white cells, and platelets. White blood cells are the most likely to become cancerous, but any of these kinds of cells can develop into cancer cells. In blood cell cancers, instead of a tumor (a clump of cancer cells) developing, such as in lung cancer, the tumor cells are spread throughout the blood system of the body.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cell (plasma cell, a type of white blood cell) cancer and b-cell neoplasm most often diagnosed in people older than age 65. In the United States, the risk of multiple myeloma is highest among African-Americans and lowest among Asian-Americans. It is estimated that this cancer affects five to six in 100,000 people each year.
In Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, white blood cells called B lymphocytes multiply out of control, invading the bone marrow, liver, and spleen. People older than age 50 have the highest risk for this type of cancer. It is estimated that about 1,000 to 1,500 people are diagnosed in the United States each year with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia.
Leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells. The white blood cells divide and multiply out of control, forming cancerous blast cells. Leukemia can progress quickly (acute leukemia) or slowly (chronic leukemia).
The body’s lymph system carries white blood cells that help fight off infections. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell present in the lymph system (such as the lymph nodes), and they can grow and multiply to create a type of cancer called lymphoma.
Specialized Medical Treatment
Blood cell cancers require specialized medical treatment depending on the type of cancer, how advanced it is, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. A hematologist-oncologist is a doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of blood cell cancers. A primary care doctor would refer you to this type of specialist to confirm or establish a diagnosis and develop the best course of treatment for you or a loved one.