What is bone marrow?
Bone marrow is the sponge-like material inside your bones. It contains the important stem cells, which can develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Bone marrow cancer occurs when the cells within the marrow begin to grow abnormally or at a faster rate.
Facts we found:
- The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 32,110 new cases of multiple myeloma in the United States for 2019. They also estimate there will be about 12,960 deaths are expected to occur
- An estimated combined total of 176,200 people in the US are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2019.
- New cases of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are expected to account for 10 percent of the estimated 1,762,450 new cancer cases diagnosed in the US in 2019.
- Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are expected to cause the deaths of an estimated 56,770 people in the US in 2019.
- An estimated 1,399,180 people in the US are either living with, or are in remission from, leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
This is the most common type of bone marrow cancer. It starts in the plasma, white blood cells that make antibodies to protect your body from foreign invaders. Tumors develop if your body starts to produce too many plasma cells, which can lead to bone loss and a decreased ability to fight infections.
Symptoms may include weakness and fatigue due to a shortage of red blood cells (anemia), bleeding and bruising due to low blood platelets (thrombocytopenia), infections due to a shortage of normal white blood cells (leukopenia) as well a feeling thirsty, loss of appetite and drowsiness.
The body produces abnormal blood cells that don’t die off as they should. As the abnormal cells grow, they flood the normal white and red blood cells, and the platelets, stopping them from functioning properly.
- Acute leukemia – involves immature blood cells, called blasts. Symptoms progress quickly and can affect both children and adults
- Chronic leukemia – involves more mature blood cells. Symptoms can be mild at first, so you might not know you have it for years. It mainly affects adults.
Symptoms may include weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, body aches, bone aches, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, frequent and unexplained bruising and prolonged bleeding from small wounds.
Lymphoma happens when the lymphocytes grow out of control, forming tumors and making it difficult for your immune system to do its job. There are two main types of lymphoma:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, which starts in specific B lymphocytes
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which starts in B or T cells
Symptoms are similar to leukemia but may also include a persistent cough, itchy skin, lymph node pain after consuming alcohol, abdominal pain, rashes or skin lumps, frequent nosebleeds, tiny red dots on the skin (petechiae)
What causes bone marrow cancer?
It isn’t clear what causes bone marrow cancer. Some studies with children have shown that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved. Each of us have genes that are able to rid the body of harmful chemicals. Scientists believe that some children may not inherit those particular gene versions, so when they’re exposed to those chemicals, they have a higher risk of developing leukemia than the rest of us.
In general, scientists believe that a mixture of the following may put people at increased risk of developing all forms of bone marrow cancer:
- exposure to toxic chemicals in solvents, fuels, engine exhaust, certain cleaning products, or agricultural products
- exposure to atomic radiation
- certain viruses, including HIV, hepatitis, some retroviruses, and some herpes viruses
- suppressed immune system or plasma disorder
- genetic disorders or family history of bone marrow cancer
- previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy
How is bone marrow cancer diagnosed?
Symptoms for bone marrow cancer are often vague and could be mistaken for other conditions. Often these types of cancers are only discovered when other more likely diagnoses have been tested and ruled out.
If you believe you have any signs symptoms, go to your doctor. They will review your medical history and give you a complete physical examination. Depending on those findings and your symptoms, they may suggest you have further tests, which may involve:
- blood tests, such as complete blood count, chemistry profile, and tumor markers
- urine tests to check protein levels and assess kidney function
- imaging studies such as MRI, CT, PET, and X-ray to look for evidence of tumors
- biopsy of the bone marrow or enlarged lymph node to check for the presence of cancerous cells
What’s the treatment?
Treatment for bone marrow cancer will be personal, based on the specific type and stage of cancer at diagnosis, as well as any other health considerations. They may include:
- Biological therapy – using your own immune system to kill cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy drugs – these drugs attack specific types of cancer cells in a precise manner, whilst preventing damage to healthy cells.
- Radiation therapy – this delivers high-energy beams to a targeted area to kill cancer cells, reduce tumor size, and ease the pain.
- Transplant – damaged bone marrow is replaced with healthy marrow from a donor. This treatment may involve high-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Clinical trials – there are often research programs that test new treatments but haven’t yet been approved for general use. Your doctor can help you find information on trials that might be a good fit.
Outlook for bone marrow cancer
Some types of bone marrow cancer are much more aggressive than others. As with all cancers, the earlier you catch it, the better your chances for survival. Outlook largely depends on your overall health, age, and how well you respond to treatment.
- Multiple myeloma is not usually curable, but it can be managed. Treatment can improve the overall quality of life. According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program data from 2008 to 2014, the five-year relative survival rates for multiple myeloma at local stage are 72%.
- Some types of leukemia can be cured. For example, almost 90 percent of children with acute lymphocytic leukemia are cured. According to SEER data from 2008 to 2014, the five-year relative survival rate for leukemia is 61.4 percent. Death rates have fallen an average of 1.5 percent each year from 2006 to 2015.
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma is very treatable. According to SEER data from 2008 to 2014, the five-year relative survival rates for early diagnosis are 92% and late diagnosis (stage 4), which is 73%. Non-Hodgkin’s is 82% early stage and 62% at stage 4.
If you or anyone close to you is affected by any of the cancers related to bone marrow, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group and share your experiences, ask questions and receive love and support from over 6,000 members from across the globe.
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