How is blood cancer treated?
Goal of cancer treatment
The goal of blood cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur or relapse later.
Some blood cancers grow slowly enough that delaying treatment may be an option. If the decision to delay treatment is made, close follow-up, called watchful waiting, is needed so that significant progression can be identified and treatments can be started when needed.
Common treatments for blood cancer
Several therapies are available to treat blood cancers including:
- Biological therapy to attack cancer cells
- Chemotherapy to attack cancer cells
- Participation in a clinical trial testing promising new treatments for blood cancers
- Radiation therapy to attack cancer cells
- Stem cell transplant to provide healthy stem cells that can make healthy blood cells
- Targeted therapy to attack specific cancer cells or signaling proteins
- Watchful waiting to identify when to start treatment
Other treatments for blood cancer
Other therapies may be added to help with your general state of health and any complications of the cancer or its treatment including:
- Anti-nausea medications if needed
- Antibiotics and other medications to reduce the likelihood of getting infections
- Blood transfusions to temporarily replace blood components (such as red blood cells or platelets)
- Dental care to manage oral symptoms of leukemia or chemotherapy
- Dietary counseling to help people with cancer maintain their strength and nutritional status
- Pain medications if needed to increase comfort
- Surgery to remove an enlarged spleen or to treat bone fractures
- Vaccinations to prevent diseases like the flu and pneumonia
Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with blood cancer and its treatments. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for traditional medical care. Be sure to notify your doctor if you are consuming nutritional supplements or homeopathic (nonprescription) remedies as they may interact with the prescribed medical therapy.
Complementary treatments may include:
- Massage therapy
- Nutritional dietary supplements, herbal remedies, tea beverages, and similar products
In cases in which blood cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and has become unresponsive to treatment, the goal of treatment may shift away from curing the disease and focus on measures to keep a person comfortable and maximize the quality of life. Hospice care involves medically controlling pain and other symptoms while providing psychological and spiritual support as well as services to support the patient’s family.
What are the potential complications of blood cancer?
Complications of untreated or poorly controlled blood cancer can be serious, even life threatening in some cases. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of blood cancer include:
- Amyloidosis (rare immune-related disorder characterized by protein buildup in organs and tissues that can cause serious complications)
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Broken bones
- Hypercalcemia (increased calcium in the blood)
- Hyperviscosity syndrome (thickened blood that is difficult for the heart to pump)
- Immune deficiency and frequent Infections
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Kidney failure
- Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)
- Recurrence of cancer after remission
- Spread of cancer
- Leukemia. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org/#/diseaseinformation/leukemia/.
- Lymphoma. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org/diseaseinformation/lymphoma/.
- Pizzo PA, Poplack DG (Eds), Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011.
- Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
What is blood cancer?
Blood cancer represents a large group of different malignancies. This group includes cancers of the bone marrow, blood, and lymphatic system, which includes lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and digestive tract lymphoid tissue. Leukemia and myeloma, which start in the bone marrow, and lymphoma, which starts in the lymphatic system, are the most common types of blood cance... Read more about blood cancerintroduction
What are the symptoms of blood cancer?
Blood cancer can produce a variety of symptoms, or none at all.
Common symptoms of blood cancerSymptoms of blood cancer can include:
What causes blood cancer?
Although the specific cause of blood cancer is not known, a number of factors are associated with its development. Many blood cancers are more common among older adults. Some tend to run in families. Certain infections also appear to increase the risk of some blood cancers, as does a weakened immune system.