3 Blood Cancer Awareness Essentials

New York Stock Exchange expected to "Light it Red" for lymphoma. #BloodCancerAwarenessMonth.

1. Blood Cancer is Not Just Cancer of the Blood

'Blood cancer' is a term used to raise awareness and educate the public about hematologic malignancies. The term is simple, and it does not seem to need any further explanation -- at least, not right away -- but what exactly is blood cancer?

Well, it turns out it's not just a cancer of the blood. Nor is it necessarily a cancer of the red blood cells, specifically.

It is a cancer of the blood and blood-forming organs, which means that the bone marrow, the lymph nodes and other tissues and structures may be involved. This also means that immune system components, including infection-fighting white blood cells, may be affected.

Blood cancers, or hematologic malignancies, include a vast number of different diseases that commonly fall into the following broad categories:

  • Leukemia

  • Lymphoma

  • Myeloma

These cancers may certainly involve the circulating blood, including red blood cells and white blood cells, but they may also involve cancer in the organs and cells that give rise to blood. In adults, the bone marrow produces red blood cells, as well as white blood cells of varying types. Lymphocytes start out in the bone marrow, but they migrate to the lymphoid tissues, and especially the thymus, the spleen, and the lymph nodes; these tissues and structures play a vital role in getting the lymphocytes to grow up, or differentiate, into mature lymphocytes.

Special tissues of the spleen, liver, lymph nodes and other organs also contribute to the differentiation and maturation of other immune cells such as monocytes. Any and all of these organs and sites around the body may be involved in blood cancer.

2. Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Each Have Types and Sub-types

In the United States, recent estimates from the American Cancer Society predict new diagnoses over the next 12 months as follow: lymphoma - 80,900 people; leukemia - 54,270 people; and myeloma - 26,850 people.

When it comes to understanding these diseases -- beyond the numbers -- each of the above cancers needs to be looked at by type and sub-type.

Types and Subtypes

Unfortunately, what may seem to non-medical folks like technical jargon or needless detail may in fact be important information for patients and their loved ones. With blood cancers, it seems, it never hurts to drill down to get more and more specific about an individual's disease. For instance, it is rarely enough to know that a malignancy is some sort of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The type, sub-type and even specific mutations, or genetic changes, can all help doctors and patients work together to decide on an initial approach or therapy that makes the most sense, all things considered.

Here is an example showing how you go from type to subtype to sub-subtype in order to get to the most common type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the U.S., diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, or DLBCL:

Lymphoma => Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma => B-cell lymphoma => DLBCL

And the typing doesn't necessarily end there. Subtypes of DLBCL also exist, such as primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma and intravascular large B-cell lymphoma. DLBCL is also classified into molecular subtypes, or categories that are based on tests such as gene expression profiling.

Useful Facts - The 'Most Common' List:

  • Lymphomas are categorized into two basic types: Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; the more common of these is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Lymphomas may be B-cell lymphomas or T-cell lymphomas; the more common of these is B-cell lymphoma.
  • DLBCL is the most common non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Leukemia is the most common cancer in children.
  • Most childhood leukemias are acute lymphocytic leukemia; acute myeloid leukemia accounts for much of the rest, and chronic leukemias are rare in children.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, is the most common leukemia in adults in the United States.
  • Myeloma has several forms, of which multiple myeloma is the most common; race is a risk factor; African Americans have twice the risk of myeloma compared to Caucasians.

3. September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Although the fight against blood cancer goes on year-round, the month of September is specifically designated as blood cancer awareness month. Individuals and organizations take this opportunity to raise awareness, show support and honor those who have passed on.

-- Relevant hashtag: #BloodCancerAwarenessMonth --

The Lymphoma Research Foundation has a growing number of partners in cities across the nation for a campaign called “Light it Red.” Participants illuminate buildings and landmarks on specific nights in September. As stated by the foundation, “Lighting a building red for lymphoma not only raises awareness about this type of blood cancer, but also gives hope to those who have been affected by this disease." Each year the foundation lists its committed lighting partners, as well as the dates the lighting will take place. Here is a recent sample:

  • Lambert-St Louis International Airport – St. Louis, MO
  • Los Angeles International Airport – LAX – Los Angeles, CA
  • New York Stock Exchange – New York, NY
  • Pacific Science Center – Seattle, WA
  • Pennsylvania State Capitol – Harrisburg, PA
  • Port of Miami Bridge – Miami, FL
  • Wells Fargo Duke Energy Center – Charlotte, NC

-- Relevant hashtag: #LightitRed --

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also marks blood cancer awareness month by raising funds at its annual Light the Night Walk. Participants ask supporters to donate, perhaps as little as 5 or 10 dollars per friend. If they raise $100 or more, they receive "night-of-walk benefits," such as a t-shirt, a colored lantern and a wristband that entitles 5K walkers to food and refreshments. Volunteers can help distribute the lanterns and t-shirts, or help they might choose to help out at the food tents.

- Relevant hashtag: #somedayistoday --


Delete Blood Cancer. About Blood Cancer. Accessed August 2015.

Lymphoma Research Foundation. Light it Red For Lymphoma. Accessed August 2015.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Myeloma. Accessed August 2015.

Continue Reading