Blood Cancers: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

This information is useful for children, adults, and older adults
Young man looking worried, possibly about blood cancers

Your blood, which accounts for about 8 percent of your normal body weight, plays an important role in how your body functions. As your blood circulates throughout your vascular system, it supplies all of your organs with oxygen, nutrients, hormones and antibodies. Blood is made of an almost equal mix of plasma (the liquid that transports cells, waste and nutrients, among other things) and blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets).

When cancer occurs in the blood, it’s usually the result of an abnormal and excessive reproduction of white blood cells. Blood cancers account for about 10 percent of all diagnosed cancers in the U.S. each year. Blood cancers (including leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma) are more common in men than women. Childhood leukemia accounts for about 30 percent of all cancers in children.

“Some blood cancers may cause symptoms such as severe fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, or lymph node swelling,” says Scott Frederick Huntington, MD, MPH, a Yale Medicine hematologist and assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “Other blood cancers may show no symptoms and slowly progress over years.”

Treatments for blood cancers also vary, ranging from active surveillance without cancer-directed therapy to standard cancer treatments including immunotherapies, chemotherapies and targeted agents. “With over 100 different types of blood cancers now recognized, it is important to have an accurate diagnosis prior to deciding on treatment,” says Dr. Huntington. Yale Medicine has both clinicians and pathologists who specialize in blood cancers and review challenging cases during tumor boards to reach a consensus prior to starting therapy.