Cancer is, understandably, one of the most hated and feared diseases on the planet. According to current data, nearly 40% of all men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. But despite the awareness around certain cancers like breast, lung, and prostate cancers, other fatal forms of cancer such as bone marrow, are less understood.
Bone marrow also known as blood cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the soft, spongy tissue of your bone. This is actually where most blood cells in your body develop, and when a mutation occurs, it can affect your immune system and lymphatic system, and may lead to bone cancer. This can be a scary type of cancer, especially because there are no routine tests to check for it, so being aware of early bone marrow and other severe cancer symptoms is very important.
What is Bone Marrow, Exactly?
Did you know that bones have many layers? Although they are hard on the outside, this outer layer is covering lighter, spongy bone on the inside. These hollow bones, like the bones in your thighs and hips, have a space that’s called the medullary cavity, and in this area, at the center of the bone, you can find the soft, spongy material that’s called bone marrow.
It is in your bone marrow that most blood cells in your body develop. These cells are called stem cells and they mature into different kinds of blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Each type of cell developed in the bone marrow has a specific role in the body. Red blood cells carry oxygen to your body tissues; white blood cells work to fight infections; and platelets control bleeding by helping to form blood clots. Stem cells are important because they are the building blocks of our blood, tissues, and organs. They also play a major role in our immune function.
Usually, new cells are created when old or damaged ones die, but sometimes this process doesn’t function properly. This can happen as a result of bone marrow cancer.
What is Bone Marrow Cancer?
Bone marrow cancer is sometimes called “bone cancer,” but it actually starts in the hollow areas of your bone where cells are created, not in the bone itself. There are many types of bone marrow cancer, which are differentiated by the kind of cells that form the cancerous tumors. Each type affects the body’s cells in different ways and may be detected when the initial signs and symptoms emerge.
Bone Marrow Cancer types
1. Myeloma Cancer
Myeloma is the most common type of cancer that starts in the bone. It occurs when the body keeps producing plasma cells, which produce the immunoglobulins (or antibodies) that protect you from harmful substances. These unneeded plasma cells are called myeloma cells, and they can build up in your bones and form tumors. Some people with multiple myeloma don’t have any symptoms at all, but others may experience some of these common issues: (1)
- pain in their bone (usually in the back, hips, or skull)
- bone weakness and bones that break easily
- Low platelet count, low white blood cell count, and low red blood cell count
- high levels of calcium in the blood
- nerve damage
- spinal cord compression, which occurs when weak bones press on spinal nerves
- slowed blood flow to the brain
- kidney damage
- increased risk of infections, especially pneumonia
- staying sick from an infection for a long period of time
Leukemia is a type of cancer that can start in bone marrow, usually when white blood cells grow uncontrollably. Leukemia cells begin to replace normal blood and marrow cells, and unlike normal stem cells, they don’t die when they should. Leukemia cells make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for normal blood cells to perform their jobs.
There are four main types of leukemia and they are characterized by where the cancer develops and their how quickly it progresses. Leukemia symptoms vary, depending on the type and stage of leukemia. For people with acute leukemia, the most common symptoms resemble flu symptoms, but they will not subside after a short period of time. Leukemia symptoms may also include: (2)
- chills and night sweats
- fatigue and weakness
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- shortness of breath
- sore throat
- bruising easily
- frequent nose bleeds
- bleeding gums
- joint or bone pain
- enlarged lymph nodes
Lymphoma (also called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) is a type of cancer that effects the lymphatic system. With lymphoma, abnormal cells in the lymphatic system begin to divide and grow uncontrollably. Lymphoma cells can eventually replace the normal cells in bone marrow, which is part of the lymphatic system. Over time, these lymphomas can then spread to other parts of the body.
One of the most common initial signs of lymphoma is painless swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck, collarbone area, armpits and groin. Some other early signs and symptoms include: (3)
- chills and night sweats
- weakness and fatigue
- enlarged tonsils
- loss of appetite and weight loss
- persistent coughing
- shortness of breath
- itchiness all over the body
Don’t Wait! Detect Bone Cancer Early
According to the National Cancer Society regarding bone marrow, for all cases of bone cancer in both adults and children, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 70 percent. This means that in 70 percent of cases, the patient lived at least 5 years after their cancer was diagnosed. These survival rates depend on a lot of factors, including the type of cancer, where the cancer is located, the size of the tumor, the age of the patients and the type of treatment. (4)
As is the case with most cancers, catching bone marrow cancer early is best for optimal survival rates and remission. Paying attention to the early signs and symptoms of bone cancer can improve your prognosis and may allow for more treatment options. If you notice any of these bone marrow cancer symptoms, take it seriously and see your healthcare provider. This is especially important because there is currently no routine test that’s used to detect the early stages of bone cancer.
- 1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
- 2. https://www.cancercenter.com/leukemia/symptoms/
- 3. https://www.lls.org/lymphoma
- 4. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/CRC/PDF/Public/8564.00.pdf
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