Let's raise blood cancer awareness this September - GulfToday

Let's raise blood cancer awareness this September

Healthy lifestyle

Poor diet and lack of exercise are often associated with blood cancer.

Manjula Ramakrishnan

“According to statistics, there are 4,500 new cases of cancer reported each year and it’s the third leading cause of death. As a result of these statistics, the UAE is determined to bring down cancer fatalities by 18 per cent by 2021 and is a key performance indication of the UAE National Agenda. According to reports, Leukaemia and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are both among the top five cancers diagnosed in both men and women within the UAE,’’ informs Dr Faraz Khan MD consultant oncologist/haematologist, American Hospital Dubai, while speaking to Panorama. September is blood cancer awareness month.

Dr Faraz Khan

Dr Faraz Khan MD consultant oncologist/haematologist, American Hospital Dubai.

Why is blood cancer difficult to detect?

Blood cancers can be hard to detect due to vague symptoms and warning signs. Mutations during the development of your normal blood cells can lead to development of different types of blood cancers and many of them originate in the bone marrow where blood cells are produced.

What are the different types of blood cancers?

Blood cancers can be divided into leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Leukaemia is a type of cancer that is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells and will show up in the blood. These abnormal cells are unable to fight infection as normal white blood cells usually do and impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce other blood cells and platelets.

Myeloma, on the other hand, is a cancer of the plasma cells. These cells are white blood cells that produce antibodies that fight disease and infection. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies which leaves the body defences weakened and more susceptible to infection.

A lymphoma is cancer of a type of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and is also present in lymphatic system, including cells in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow and other parts of the body. As with any cancer, these cells mutate and grow out of control. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin. The primary difference between these two categories is the type of lymphocyte or cell of origin, and when and where the mutation occurs in the development of these cells.

What is the cause of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

The exact cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not known, but viruses like Epstein-Barr virus, genetics and environmental factors have all been implicated. It is most common in adults aged 15 to 35, and in those over the age of 50. 

What are the symptoms for Lymphoma?

Lymphoma symptoms can be similar to those of viral diseases but persist for longer than expected. Patients may notice a swelling of lymph nodes that is usually painless, accompanied by fever, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats or chills. The best way to detect lymphoma early is to be on the lookout for possible symptoms and seek medical attention if symptoms persist for weeks rather than days.

Why is diagnosis difficult with certain types of cancers?

The overlap of symptoms with viral infections can often lead to misdiagnosis or delay, which underlines the need for increased awareness surrounding symptoms and detection of these cancers. The more we learn and understand about the mechanics of the disease, the better chance we have of developing appropriate treatments. The more awareness is raised surrounding these blood cancers, the sooner patients and doctors will be able to reach correct diagnosis giving the best chance of optimal outcome.

Is there any way to prevent these cancers?

As the cause for these cancers remain unknown, it is hard to say exactly how to prevent them. However, avoiding exposure to solvents such as benzene and toluene and avoiding unnecessary exposure to x-rays is a good practice. Cancers are also associated with poor diet, lack of exercise and tobacco use, so it is always recommended to avoid these and ensure a healthy lifestyle. If patients suspect symptoms of any blood cancer, they should see a specialist as soon as possible for early diagnosis and treatment. Patients who have a family history of blood cancers should be aware of symptoms, attend regular check-ups and share their family history with their doctor.

What are the most modern treatment methods available?

There are many innovative approaches for treatment depending on the stage of disease, although some may cause side effects. The four main types of treatment are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Some targeted drugs can be used that focus on specific vulnerabilities in the cancerous cells, while immunotherapy works to activate the patient’s own immune system.