Blood cancer: diseases of the hematopoietic systemBlood cancers are diseases of the hematopoietic system. It can affect the blood, bone marrow or lymphatic system. There are different types and courses.
For editorial reasons, we refrain from using the language forms male, female and diverse in the following. However, this of course refers to all genders.
What is blood cancer?
Blood cancer is the name given to various diseases of the hematopoietic system. They can affect the bone marrow, the blood and the lymphatic system. There is an uncontrolled proliferation of pathological blood cells, so that healthy blood components are displaced. Essential functions of the blood are thereby disturbed.
Three main forms of blood cancer
There are different types of blood cancer, which can be divided into three main forms: Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Colloquially, blood cancer is often equated with leukemia.
Leukemia: White blood
The term leukemia means "white blood". It is composed of the two Greek words for "white" (leukos) and "blood" (haĩma). Rudolf Virchow, the famous physician of the Berlin Charite, first described the disease in 1845. When examining the blood of a patient, he found that the proportion of white blood cells (leukocytes) was greatly increased compared to healthy people. The patient therefore had "white blood", which gave the disease its name.
Blood and hematopoiesis
In the case of blood cancer, the complex process of blood formation (hematopoiesis) gets out of joint, and uncontrolled growth of diseased blood cells occurs. Our blood consists of different blood cells. They are formed from stem cells in the bone marrow, the spongy tie inside the bones. These blood stem cells, like other stem cells, are able to renew themselves or. copy. In a maturation process with several preliminary stages, the different types of blood cells develop in this way.
There are two developmental lineages in the formation of blood cells in the bone marrow, the myeloid and the lymphoid cell lineage. One developmental stage of blood cells are the so-called blasts, also called precursor cells. They can belong to either the myeloid or the lymphoid cell lineage. Red blood cells (erythrocytes), platelets (thrombocytes) and certain forms of white blood cells, granulocytes and monocytes, develop from the myeloid precursor cells. The lymphoid precursor cells give rise to u. a. Lymphocytes. Together with the granulocytes. Monocytes are counted among the white blood cells (leukocytes). Together with granulocytes and monocytes, lymphocytes are counted among the white blood cells (leukocytes). blood pigment hemoglobin. Are responsible for oxygen transport in the blood. Platelets (Platelets) contribute to blood clotting, stop bleeding, and are important for wound healing. White blood cells (leukocytes) play an important role in the immune system. They fight pathogens, for example viruses and bacteria.
What are the different forms of blood cancer?
The different forms of blood cancer are distinguished by, among other things, the blood cells from which the cancer cells arise and the course of the disease. Thus, there are myeloid and lymphoid leukemias, in which there is a change in different precursor cells of white blood cells. In myeloid leukemias, myeloid precursor cells of white blood cells are affected, in lymphatic leukemias precursor cells of lymphocytes are affected. Another distinguishing feature is the acute or chronic course of the disease. Acute leukemia progresses rapidly. Chronic forms of leukemia develop gradually and often go unnoticed at first, since they do not cause any symptoms at the beginning.
Four main forms of blood cancer are distinguished in this way
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
Acute lymphocytic leukemia or acute lymphoblastic leukemia develops from precursor cells of certain white blood cells, the lymphocytes. ALL is the most common form of blood cancer in children. Adults are rarely affected.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
In chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as in ALL, it is lymphocyte precursor cells that undergo alteration and uncontrolled proliferation. In contrast to ALL, however, the lymphocytes are in a more mature stage. CLL usually occurs at an older age, on average at more than 70 years of age.
A special feature of CLL is that, despite its name, it is classified as a lymphoma and not as a leukemia. The cancer cells originate in the lymphatic system. However, its course is leukemic, which means that the cancer cells are also detectable in the blood and bone marrow.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
In acute myeloid leukemia, it is an overproduction of myeloid progenitor cells that leads to the disease. As with CLL, it is predominantly older people who develop AML. The average age at disease onset is over 70 years. Since AML is very aggressive, it must be treated quickly after diagnosis.
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
In chronic myeloid leukemia, as in AML, it is myeloid progenitor cells that cause the change in the. Even if CML progresses slowly at first, it can develop into acute leukemia as it progresses. The risk of developing CML increases with age.
Video: CLL and AML – what's the difference??
CLL is the most common form of slowly progressing blood cancer – AML the most common form of acute leukemia. Their symptoms may be similar, but their course is very different. In the video you can learn more about the two types of blood cancer.
Early detection of blood cancer
In acute forms of blood cancer in particular, it is important to make a diagnosis as early as possible in order to be able to initiate therapy. Since there is no specific early detection of blood cancer, as is known, for example, for colorectal cancer or skin cancer, it is all the more important to know the possible signs of blood cancer.
Chronic forms of blood cancer are discovered by chance in most cases because they do not cause symptoms at the beginning. Acute leukemias, on the other hand, usually have very sudden symptoms. Here it is important to classify the signs correctly, as the complaints can also be associated with other diseases.
Recognizing possible signs of blood cancer
Possible symptoms of blood cancer include:
– Tiredness, fatigue and consequently reduced performance – Persistent fever – Night sweats – Unintentional rapid weight loss
If the leukemia progresses and more and more healthy blood components are displaced, other symptoms, for example, pallor, shortness of breath, dizziness or heart palpitations, may occur. In addition, a bleeding tendency, bruising and increased susceptibility to infections may develop.
If these symptoms occur, however, a doctor should be consulted in any case to clarify the cause.
Risk factors for blood cancer
In most cases, no clear cause of blood cancer can be identified. A random change in the genetic material of a single blood cell is amed to lead to the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells. However, there are a number of known factors that can increase the risk of developing blood cancer.
Possible risk factors for blood cancer
Hereditary predisposition: Blood cancer is not directly inherited, but there seems to be a hereditary predisposition. Accordingly, the risk of developing blood cancer is increased if malignant diseases have already occurred more frequently in the family. In addition, congenital genetic changes, for example trisomy 21, can increase the risk of certain forms of blood cancer.
Radiation exposure: Radioactive radiation can increase the risk, especially for acute leukemia. X-rays can also contribute to the risk. The risk of disease increases with increasing exposure to radiation.
Chemical agents: There are certain chemical substances that are known to promote the development of blood cancer. These include solvents used in industry such as benzene. Insecticides and pesticides are also suspected of contributing to the risk of blood cancer.
medication: Some drugs used to treat cancer, certain cytostatics, can increase the risk of blood cancer in the long term. Therefore, a risk-benefit analysis is always necessary when using them.
Smoking: Smoking is one of the risk factors for blood cancer. Tobacco smoke contains many carcinogens, including benzene. Experts estimate that about 10% of blood cancers are due to cigarette smoke.
age: Age is also counted among the risk factors for AML, CLL and CML. The risk of developing the disease increases with age.
A number of the risk factors for blood cancer cannot be actively influenced or averted, for example increasing age. On the other hand, other risk factors such as smoking can be avoided.