What is Bone Marrow Cancer, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Bone marrow, located in the middle part of large bones, is where blood cells that are very important for the body are produced. Since many types of blood cells are produced in this region, the types of cancer that develop also vary. In other words, bone marrow cancer does not refer to a single cancer, but to many cancers that are acute or chronic (such as leukemia, lymphoma). For this reason, different methods are applied for symptoms, diagnosis and treatments depending on the cells affected by cancer.
What is Bone Marrow Cancer?
Bone marrow cancer occurs as a result of excessive and uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the bone marrow. Blood cells that carry oxygen to the body (red blood cells), contribute to the immune system (white blood cells) and play a role in blood clotting (platelets) are produced in the bone marrow. For this reason, many types of cancer can be seen affecting different cells in the bone marrow, and these cancers are of vital importance. Since the function of blood cells is essential for a person to live a healthy life, early diagnosis and treatment of bone marrow cancer is very important.
What Causes Bone Marrow Cancer?
Although the main cause of bone marrow cancer is uncontrolled cell growth, the cause of this abnormal growth is not clearly known. But there are risk factors that can cause cancer formation as a result of abnormal cell growth and uncontrolled proliferation. Risk factors that may cause bone marrow cancer include:
- Age: The risk of bone marrow cancer increases with age, because cell damage accumulates over time and increases the likelihood of cancer.
- Gender: Gender is a risk factor for some types of bone marrow cancer. This is because some types of cancer affect the person more depending on their anatomy and physiology.
- Genetic: Since bone marrow cancer is related to genetic predisposition, the risk is higher for people who have had this cancer in their family.
- Viruses: Some virus types are important risk factors for bone marrow cancer. For example, HIV, an immunodeficiency virus that affects the immune system, increases the risk of leukemia.
- Chronic Infection: Long-lasting and frequently recurring infections may increase the risk of cancer by lowering immunity and causing cell deterioration.
- Exposure to Chemicals and Harmful Rays: Exposure to chemicals and harmful rays are among the most well-known causes of cancer. Exposure to chemicals such as benzene or harmful rays such as radiation increases the risk of many cancers, including bone marrow cancer.
What are the symptoms of bone marrow cancer?
Since there are many types of bone marrow cancer, symptoms of bone marrow cancer may cause different symptoms depending on the type, stage and spread of the cancer. But the most common bone marrow cancer symptoms can be listed as follows:
- Bone Pains: Bone marrow cancer can often cause pain in the bones, and this pain is often severe and long-lasting.
- Weakness and Fatigue: Cancer cells consume more energy than normal cells, and because they multiply uncontrollably, they consume significant energy. This may lead to a feeling of weakness and fatigue in the person with cancer.
- Anemia: Because bone marrow cancer affects blood cells, it can prevent the production of normal blood cells, causing anemia. Anemia can also cause symptoms such as pale skin, fast heartbeats, weakness.
- Frequent Infection Occurrence: Because bone marrow cancer affects the white blood cells associated with the immune system, the immune system may be weakened and the patient may get frequent infections.
- Bone Fractures and Weakness: Types of bone marrow cancer, such as myeloma, can weaken bones, leading to fractures.
- Oral Wounds: Like many cancers, bone marrow cancer can cause sores inside the mouth, which can lead to swallowing and feeding problems.
- Weight Loss: Since cancer cells consume a lot of energy, they can cause weight loss by using the body’s energy resources.
- Swelling in Lymph Nodes: Lymphoma, a type of bone marrow cancer, can cause enlargement and swelling in the lymph nodes.
Respiratory Problems: If bone marrow cancer spreads to the lungs, breathing problems may occur.
Types of Bone Marrow Cancer
Because bone marrow cancer can affect many different cells, there are many types of bone marrow cancer. It is possible to list the types of bone marrow cancer as follows:
- Leukemia: There are two types of leukemia, acute and chronic, which occur as a result of abnormal proliferation of white blood cells in the bone marrow. While acute leukemia progresses rapidly and requires urgent treatment, chronic leukemia progresses more slowly and provides time for treatment.
- Lymphoma: Lymphoma, which occurs as a result of abnormal growth of immune cells called lymphocytes, has two types: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by lymph nodes and Reed-Sternberg cells, while non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not specific to specific cells and has many subtypes.
- Myeloma: Myeloma occurs as a result of abnormal growth of bone marrow cells called plasma cells and can cause bone weakness and fractures.
- Hairy Cell Leukemia: Hairy cell leukemia, one of the rare types of leukemia, occurs as a result of abnormal growth of B cells in the immune system.
- Waldenström Macroglobulinemia: Waldenström Macroglobulinemia, another rare type of bone marrow cancer, develops as a result of excess antibody production in the bone marrow.
Bone Marrow Cancer Diagnosis Methods
Since there are many different types of bone marrow cancer such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, diagnosis methods are also quite diverse. Methods used in the diagnosis of bone marrow cancers can be listed as follows:
- Blood Tests: Blood tests are one of the most effective methods in diagnosing cancer because they provide important information about blood cells. Blood tests can detect anemia, abnormal cells that indicate leukemia, or levels of certain chemicals.
- Bone Marrow Biopsy: In a bone marrow biopsy, a sample is usually taken from one of the large bones, such as the hip bone or breastbone, with the help of a thin needle. The sample taken is examined to determine the presence and type of cancer cells.
- Imaging Tests: Imaging tests such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) are used to evaluate whether cancer has spread to the bones and other parts of the body.
- Bone Scan: A radioactive substance is injected and spreads to the bones. Images taken with the radiation of this substance show whether cancer has spread to the bones.
- PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan: In this test, a radioactive substance is injected into the body and focuses on cancer cells, showing abnormal activity in images.
- Bone Marrow Aspiration: It is similar to a bone marrow biopsy, but in this method, bone marrow is usually taken from the liquid part.
- Lymph Node Biopsy: In cancer types such as lymphoma, the type of cancer and its level of spread can be determined by taking samples from the lymph nodes.
- Cytogenetic and Molecular Tests: These tests help determine the type of cancer and treatment options by examining the genetic and molecular characteristics of cancer cells.
Bone Marrow Cancer Treatment
Treatment of bone marrow cancer is planned by a specialist healthcare team according to the type of disease, its stage of progression and the general health condition of the patient. The methods used in the treatment of bone marrow cancer can be explained as follows:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy, frequently used in the treatment of bone marrow cancers, is a drug treatment used to destroy or control cancer cells. Drugs are injected intravenously and target cancer cells throughout the body, but other cells may also be affected to some extent.
- Radiotherapy: The aim of radiotherapy is to destroy cancerous cells in a certain area with the help of high-energy radiation.
- Bone marrow transplantation: Bone marrow transplant is the process of replacing a patient’s damaged or cancerous bone marrow cells with cells from a healthy donor. A bone marrow transplant can be used to replenish the patient’s immune system cells and blood cells.
- Targeted Therapies (Smart molecules): There are targeted drugs specifically designed for some bone marrow cancers, providing more effective treatment.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is the activation of the immune system to support the fight against cancer cells. It can help destroy cancer cells by making them better recognized by the body.
Since early diagnosis is of great importance in cancer treatments, if you suspect bone marrow cancer, consult a specialist doctor and have your check-ups.