Blood Cancer

Expert care for leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Doctor holds blood cancer patients hand

What you need to know

Blood cancers begin in blood-forming tissue like bone marrow or in cells of the immune system. Also called hematological cancers, they include three main types: leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma. All three involve an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the blood and bone marrow. About 10 percent of new cancer cases each year in the U.S. are blood cancers. More than a million Americans are living with a blood cancer or are in remission (with the disease under control).
  • Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells; the cancer cells are mainly in the bone marrow and blood, although it can spread to other places.
  • Lymphoma begins in the lymph nodes or other organs. There are two types — Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
  • Multiple myeloma begins in the plasma cells (white blood cells that make antibodies).

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Understanding your diagnosis

Depending on the type of blood (hematological) cancer you have, your doctor may conduct tests to learn more about your cancer and to see if it has spread. They include blood tests, bone marrow tests, imaging tests, lymph node biopsy, lumbar puncture or urine tests.

Possible tests include:  
  • Blood tests: Tests for blood counts (white, red, platelets), chemistry test (kidney function, liver function), disease-specific tumor markers.
  • Bone marrow testing
  • Immunohistochemistry: A test that uses antibodies to tell the difference between types of cancer
  • Cytogenetic analysis: A lab test where cells of sample tissues are put under the microscope to look for changes in chromosomes
  • Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH): A lab test looking for genes or chromosomes in cells and tissues. This type of test looks for genetic markers.
  • Immunotyping: Used to identify cells based on the antigens or markers on the cell surface
  • Chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI: Imaging technology to look inside the body
  • Lumbar puncture: Collecting cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column
  • Biopsy of a lymph node or other tissue: Collecting tissue with a needle or by surgical removal to determine the type of cancer you may have
  • Heart tests including echocardiogram or MUGA (multigated acquisition) scan creates video images of the lower chambers of the heart to check whether they are pumping blood properly.

Customized treatment plans 

Because each person and every cancer is different, your doctor uses your tests and exams to come up with an individual treatment plan. How long this takes depends on how complex your case is and your treatment goals. During this time, you build a relationship with your cancer doctors. You become a team for your care. Open, honest communication can only benefit your relationship with your doctors. These tips can also help you get the most from this partnership:

  • Prepare in advance: Write down your questions ahead of your visits. A few examples of smart questions:
  • • Why are we doing these tests?
    • Why do you think this treatment is right?
    • What side effects might this treatment cause?
  • Find trustworthy resources: If you’re looking to learn more, rely on this website or sources your team recommends, so you can make decisions based on good information.
  • Take a partner: Bringing a friend or family member to appointments can make you feel more confident and help you remember important details.

Treatment options 

There are several ways to treat blood cancers depending on the type. Options may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation or stell cell transplant. People often receive a combination of treatments. Learn more about blood cancer treatment options. Learn more about blood cancer treatment options.

A stem cell transplant (also called cellular therapy) may be an option for certain types of blood cancer. Legacy is a nationally accredited transplant center, in conjunction with the Northwest Marrow Transplant Program. Learn more about stem cell transplantation.

Other new types of cancer treatments are being tested. Talk to your doctor about options or see if a clinical trial may be right for you.

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Nurse navigators
Legacy Cancer Healing Center 
Support groups and classes
Cancer rehabilitation 
Survivorship services

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