Types of Blood Cancer: Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma: What’s the difference?

Types of Blood Cancer: Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma: What’s the difference?

When we talk about blood cancer, it means the cancer of blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system. Most of the blood cancer starts in the bone marrow, the spongy soft tissue inside the bones where the production of blood cells occurs. You have three types of blood cells:

  • Platelets aid in clotting of blood, stop or prevent bleeding when you are injured
  • White blood cells combat infection as part of immune system and protect body against both foreign invaders and infectious disease
  • Red blood cells transport oxygen to body’s tissues and organs

Cancer of the blood interrupts the production, maturation, and development process of blood cells. Also, the normal functioning of the blood cells gets interfered since the abnormal cancerous cells prevent blood from performing its functions such as preventing severe bleeding and fighting off infectious pathogens.

Scroll below to have a brief overview of blood cancer and its types.


  • What is blood cancer?
  • Symptoms of blood cancer
  • Types of blood cancer: Know the difference

What is blood cancer?

Blood cancer is a diverse group of disorders that occur when the blood cells multiply in an uncontrolled way and become cancerous.

As the cancerous cells start growing out of control, they crowd the bone marrow and prevent it from making enough healthy red cells (resulting in anemia), white cells (raising susceptibility to infections), and platelets (making a person more susceptible to bleeding and bruising).

Symptoms of blood cancer

Symptoms of blood tumor include nausea, fever, chills, persistent body weakness, itchy skin, headache, drenching night sweats, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, pale complexion, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, bone/joint pain, persistent fatigue, nose bleed, recurrent infections, anemia, and swollen lymph nodes.

Types of blood cancer: Know the difference

Leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma are the three principal types of blood cancer. Let us dive a little to explore the difference between them.

(a) Leukemia

It is a type of blood cancer that initiates in the bone marrow. Individuals having leukemia witness a rise in the number of white blood cells in the body. This is because the bone marrow produces too many abnormal immature white blood cells and spreads them rapidly into the bloodstream, where they grow and crowd out the healthy blood cells that body needs.

Those extra white blood cells do not function properly and can’t fight off foreign invaders the way normal white blood cells do. By clogging up the bone marrow, they reduce the rate of generation of immune cells such as red blood cells and platelets. Over time, the body may not have adequate normal white blood cells to fight off infection, enough red blood cells to supply oxygen, and sufficient platelets to prevent bleeding.

Types of leukemia: Acute lymphocytic leukemia, Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Chronic myeloid leukemia, and Acute myeloid leukemia. Read Gemtuzumab ozogamicin has received FDA-approval to treat acute myeloid leukemia

(b) Lymphoma

The lymphatic system is a complex and vast network of vessels, organs, and tissues. Its major function is to transport a colorless watery fluid (lymph) containing infection-combating white blood cells, throughout the body.

Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, often originates in the lymphocytes (type of white blood cells). In this, the lymphocytes undergo rapid multiplication and overwhelm the lymphatic system. The lymphocytes grow out of control and turn into lymphoma cells which get accumulated in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, lymph tissues, or in neighboring organs. The types of lymphoma are:

(i) Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma usually affects younger individuals between 15 and 35 years of age. It initiates in B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that mature in bone marrow). A characteristic feature of patients suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma is that they have abnormally large lymphocytes (Reed-Sternberg cells) in their lymph nodes.

(ii) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma commonly affects people over 50 years of age. It originates in B lymphocytes or T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that mature in the thymus). In comparison with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common.

Few drugs have received FDA approval to treat Non-Hodgkin lymphoma such as crizotinib (for anaplastic large cell lymphoma), selinexor (for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma), and tazemetostat and axicabtagene ciloleucel (for follicular lymphoma).

(c) Myeloma

This type of cancer originates in the blood’s plasma cells (short-lived antibody-producing cells that develop from B lymphocytes that have been activated).  Due to alteration in the DNA of the plasma cells, these cells transform into myeloma cells. Since myeloma commonly occurs at numerous sites in the bone marrow, it is commonly known as multiple myeloma.

Myeloma cells impair the normal production of antibodies, making immune system impaired, and also raise the susceptibility to infectious pathogens.  They also release chemicals that trigger other bone marrow cells (osteoclasts) that result in the removal of calcium from the bone. Consequently, the bones may become weak and brittle, thus elevating the risk of bone fractures.

Similar to regular plasma cells, myeloma cells can also generate antibodies. However, they are not able to produce healthy antibodies. Rather, they make unhealthy antibodies (M protein/ paraprotein) that can build up in the urine and blood, potentially harming the kidneys and other vital organs. Thus, if a person has myeloma, M protein is often detected in the urine and blood. Also, read Bortezomib: A valuable therapy for multiple myeloma.

Over time, the cancerous blood cells can weaken the immune system. A routine blood test may aid in the early detection of blood tumors. It is essential to accurately diagnose the type of blood cancer. Some common blood cancer treatments are stem cell transplantation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. Seek prompt medical care if you witness any of the symptoms related to blood cancer.

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