Living Well

Facts you need to know about blood cancer

Dr. Elizabeth Ellent
Facts you need to know about blood cancer

Survival rates for some blood cancers have improved over the years.

Every three minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer and every nine minutes someone in the U.S. will die from it. While these numbers are shocking, there is some positive news when it comes to this disease. According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, survival rates have significantly improved due to decades of research leading to advances in treatment!

There are different types of blood cancer, but they all have something in common.

Cancer is a disease caused by abnormal or damaged cells that grow uncontrollably and then spread throughout the body. There are more than 100 types of cancer. Most are discovered because the damaged cells result in an abnormal growth called a tumor. Others are caused when blood cells in the bone marrow grow abnormally and out of control causing blood cancer. These abnormal blood cells aren’t able to function normally. Everyone has three types of blood cells that have a distinct job to do:

  • White cells fight infection and is part of the body’s immune system.
  • Red cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
  • Platelets which help the blood clot after an injury, like a cut.

There are different types of blood cancers depending on which blood cells is growing abnormally. Four of the more common types of blood cancer include:

  • Leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Myeloma

Blood cancers can be challenging to identify because they usually can’t be seen from the outside. Symptoms can be vague and mimic other health issues. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Fever and chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling of the abdomen or extremities
  • Bruising

Right now, there is no screening test available to detect blood cancer like there is for breast or colon cancer; however, like all cancers, knowing your family history is very important. It can alert your doctor to potential risk factors. If you are experiencing any symptoms, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor. It is important to be proactive with your health and not ignore warning signs that something could be wrong.

Better treatments are improving survival rates for those with blood cancer.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to bring greater awareness to blood cancer and the accomplishments that have occurred in battling this form of cancer. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), the 5-year survival rates for blood cancers in the 1960s were minimal; only 12-14 percent of patients were alive 5 years after their diagnosis of leukemia or lymphoma. Today, those numbers have risen considerably! The 5-year survival rate has improved for:

  • Leukemia: On average, 71.7 percent for patients with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia are alive 5 years after diagnosis. Patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia have an 88.2 percent 5-year survival rate.
  • Hodgkin Lymphoma: 88.5 percent for all patients are alive 5 years after diagnosis; 94.4 percent for those younger than 45
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: 74.7 percent for all patients are alive 5 years after diagnosis.
  • Myeloma: 53.7 percent of all patients are alive 5 years after diagnosis; 76.2 percent for those who were younger than 45 when diagnosed

According to LLS, research has helped over 1.3 million people in the U.S. live with or be in remission from certain forms of blood cancer. Blood cancers have more targeted treatments now than ever before to maximize treatment effectiveness and decrease side effects.

About Dr. Elizabeth Ellent:
Dr. Elizabeth Ellent is a second-generation West Jefferson Medical physician following in her mother’s footsteps, caring for patients. She earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University Health Science Center, School of Medicine, and now specializes in Hematology and Oncology. During her training, Dr. Ellent served as Chief Medical Resident and Chief Fellow, and was an instructor to medical students attending the University of Queensland Medical School, Louisiana Campus. Dr. Ellent is board certified in medical oncology as well as hematology, and treats a variety of cancers and hematologic disorders. She always leads with the ultimate compassion and care for her patients. By partnering with them and their family, she develops a customized health care plan providing the latest in medical treatments and support.