The treatment for blood cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer, age of the patient, the organs involved by cancer, tolerance of the patient among other factors.

The most important treatments for curing blood cancer are:

1.Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy for blood cancer is a form of chemical drug therapy that aims to destroy the rapidly growing cells in the body. It is one of the most reliable treatments to cure blood cancer.

Procedure:

In this method, the drugs are injected into the veins or the larger muscle. Depending on the stage of the treatment, they are orally taken and are also given under the skin. These drugs travel along the bloodstream to reach the cancer cells. They then restrict the cells from spreading the cancer further in the body. This treatment becomes one of the most effective one because these drugs attack the cancer cells that are dividing quickly. Chemo is given in stages. After every stage of treatment, the patient is given a period of rest under medication. This is so that the patient can handle the side effects of the treatment.

Side effects:

Heart, liver, brain, kidneys, testicles and ovaries are affected directly because of this treatment. Common side effects include:

  • Easy bleeding and bruising
  • Anemia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite changes
  • Constipation

The oncologist should take care of the tolerance levels of the person before proceeding with the treatment. There should be strict medical invigilance during the treatment. In case of any side effects, relevant medication has to be given. Treatment has to be reduced or terminated if any severe adverse effects are encountered. The side effects are generally short-termed and precise medication is prescribed post treatment.

2.Radiation Therapy:

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy for blood cancer {insert secondary article hyperlink here} uses high energy radiation to kill the cancer cells. The therapy works by damaging the DNA in the cells, which restricts their growth and reproduction.

Types of radiotherapy:

There are two types of radiation therapies:

  • Internal Radiation: Internal radiation therapy is used in treating cancers of the head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate and eye.
  • External Beam Radiation: This is the most common type of radiation therapy used. It is the preferred technique for the treatment of blood cancers.

Procedure:

In external beam radiation, a focused beam of radiation is delivered externally by a machine called linear accelerator or linac. The linac moves around the body in various angles to deliver the radiation. These accelerators benefit targeted radiation which lessens the scatter of radiation to non-cancerous tissues. Skin reactions can be avoided or reduced using these. During the treatment, the patient is expected to stay in a single position and not move. No pain will be caused during the treatment. Shields are used to protect the sensitive parts of the body to protect them from the radiation.

Side effects:

The side effects generally depend on the intensity of radiation, tolerance of the patient and the area to which the radiation is given.
The common effects include

  • skin problems
  • sore throat
  • hair loss
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • heartburn

The dose of radiation is prescribed by a radiation oncologist. It depends on the age and medical history of the patient. Patient’s tolerance level is also an important factor for deciding the dosage of the treatment.

Before the radiation is given, the patients undergo simulation, where the technician determines the most effective way to direct radiation and also the angles in which it has to be directed. Radiation is given to the patients in fractions, over a several weeks to reduce its side effects.

Post treatment, the patients have to take a nutritious diet which can help them cope up with the side effects and help in building healthy tissues. Maintenance of body weight, energy and regular exercises also contribute to the benefits of the patient’s health.

3.Stem Cell Transplantation:

Stem cells are the cells of the bone marrow, these develop further to form different types of blood cells. When the blood cells are critically affected and the functioning of the body declines, the body needs more than getting rid of cancerous cells. So in addition to treatments aimed at destroying cancer, stem cell or bone marrow transplantation may be needed.

Procedure:

Before a stem cell transplant, the patient is given a conditioning regime. This treatment involves the elimination of cancer cells in the body, for which the patient undergoes high levels of chemotherapy and in very few cases, radiotherapy as well under strict monitoring. This prepares the body for stem cell transplantation.
The stem cells are injected through the veins.These cells travel across the blood and reach the bone marrow to make new blood cells. This procedure is referred as engraftment.
The stem cell transplant procedure would generally take an hour.

Side Effects and care to be taken:

Common side effects include

  • mouth and throat pain
  • bleeding and transfusions
  • interstitial pneumonitis
  • nausea and Vomiting.

Post transplantation, the patient’s blood count is monitored regularly. In some cases, the patient might require blood cells and platelet transfusion. Special and additional drugs are given in order to prevent infections and other issues in case the stem cells are extracted from donors.

4.Blood Targeted Therapy:

These therapies particularly target the specific molecules that help the cancer to grow and spread across the body. The main principle is to target the genes, proteins and supporting blood vessels. This treatment is used alone or as a combination with chemotherapy. Depending on the type of blood cancer and the characteristics of the cancer cells, the following are the major options

  • Monoclonal Antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are man-made versions of immune system proteins. These are designed to attach to the surface of the cancer cells. The main objective of these antibodies is to react to the cancer cells and help the immune system to destroy them. Monoclonal antibodies are given along with chemotherapy for chronic blood cancer. Some major side effects of this therapy include chest pain, heart racing, swelling, cough, trouble in breathing and severe dizziness.
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors :
  • Interferon: Generally, interferons are substances that are naturally produced in our body by the immune system. The therapy involves drugs that mimic this effect and was previously one of the most effective treatments. These drugs restrict the growth and division of blood cancer cells. The general treatment could continue for a few years. The patients have to deal with the side effects during the treatment, but they can cope-up easily post the therapy.

Common side effects:

The generalised side effects of the blood targeted therapies are:

  • Skin problems
  • Problems with blood clotting and wound healing
  • Increasing blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal perforation

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