September is Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month
This month we shine a spotlight on cancers of the blood.
While September is known for welcoming fall, going back to school, and 9/11 commemorations, this month is also leukemia and lymphoma awareness month. Both are aggressive forms of blood cancer with a 72 percent survival rate. An estimated 150,000 cases are predicted to be diagnosed by the end of 2023 in the United States.
Leukemia or Lymphoma?
Both leukemia and lymphoma impact an individual’s white blood cells.
Leukemia strikes the cells of the bone marrow, which aid the body in the formation of blood. There are 13 different types of leukemia. Distinct forms of leukemia include acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.
Lymphoma impinges upon both the lymph nodes and lymphocytes. The three major forms of lymphoma are:
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, also known as small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL),
- Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), which has five of its own subcategories, and
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), which has over 90 of its own subclasses.
Any lymphoma that is not of the CLL/SLL classification or does not involve Reed-Sternberg cells is commonly classified as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. There are roughly 81,560 people diagnosed with a form of NHL each year in the United States.
How Blood Cancers Begin
Leukemia is thought to develop when blood cells encounter mutational changes in the cells’ genetic material or DNA. The cells’ DNA instruct their function, such as their growth and death rates.
Lymphoma ordinarily begins in the lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell. These cells work together with other cells in the immune system to help defend the body from invading bacteria and viruses. Lymph nodes, a critical part of the lymphatic system, can be considered the Paul Revere of the immune system. Lymph nodes generally become enlarged when the body develops an immune response to invading bacteria or viruses.
The body’s three main types of lymphocytes include:
- B lymphocytes (or B cells), which make antibodies to fight infections,
- T lymphocytes (or T cells), which help B cells produce antibodies, and
- Natural killer (NK) cells, which attack and kill cancer cells and virus-infected cells.
Some T cells attack and kill infected cells while others help to regulate the way other various parts of the immune system fight infections.
Signs and Symptoms of Blood Cancers
The signs and symptoms of lymphoma and leukemia are similar to those of many other illnesses, so it’s important that patients communicate with their healthcare provider when experiencing swelling of lymph nodes (which may or may not be painless), fever, unexplained weight loss, sweating that often occurs during the night, chills, lack of energy, and itching. Leukemia patients may also experience easy bleeding or bruising, reoccurring nose bleeds, and petechiae.
It’s important for individuals with persistent symptoms to be examined by a medical professional to make sure lymphoma is not present. The medical professional should take a complete health history and perform an appropriate medical examination along with conducting or ordering any appropriate testing, which may or may not include an excisional biopsy of the suspected site. A pathologist or hematologist will examine the biopsied sample under a microscope to determine if cancerous cells are present.
Doctors are trained to recognize different cell types by visually examining the shape and size of cells, along with how the identified cells are grouped inside bodily tissue. A doctor will discuss the risks, benefits, and potential side effects associated with any procedures that may be necessary to properly diagnose a patient’s condition. It’s highly recommended patients share any questions and concerns with the doctor so that a course of action can be decided upon together.
Salma Tahir, CPC, has 20 years of experience as a qualified healthcare professional, with an emphasis on patient care, management, medical coding, billing, and compliance. She has a Master of Arts in Psychology and is passionate about recognizing and providing awareness on mental health and chronic illnesses.
Erica Murphy, CPC, CPCO, CPMA, is an industry veteran educator with 22 years of experience in medical billing, coding, and compliance, as well as medical policy construction, patient policy application, and reimbursement methodologies, with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and healthcare industry.
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