Blood cancer happens when blood cells do not develop properly.
The most common blood cancers are:
But there are also other blood cancers called:
- myelodysplasia (MDS)
- myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).
To understand blood cancers, it can help to know more about how the blood and blood cells work.
Different types of blood cancer affect different types of cells in the blood. We explain more about the types below.
Leukaemia (sometimes spelt as leukemia) is a cancer that develops when the body makes some abnormal blood cells.
The abnormal blood cells are called leukaemia cells. They behave differently from healthy blood cells.
There are different types of leukaemia depending on the type of blood cell affected. It also depends on whether the leukaemia is acute (faster growing) or chronic (slower growing).
The main types of leukaemia are:
Lymphoma is a cancer that develops when white blood cells called lymphocytes become abnormal. These abnormal cells are called lymphoma cells. Over time, enough lymphoma cells develop to form a lump (tumour). The most common place for this to happen is in the lymph nodes. But lymphoma can start growing in other parts of the body.
There are 2 main types of lymphoma:
Myelodysplasia is also called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). MDS is a type of blood cancer that affects the bone marrow. In MDS, the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells. These abnormal cells are called dysplastic cells. Dysplastic cells do not work and are quickly destroyed by the body. This means there are not enough blood cells in the blood.
Sometimes, MDS can develop into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are also blood cancers.
They happen when the bone marrow makes too many of 1 or more type of blood cell. These cells all start from myeloid stem cells.
Most MPNs develop very slowly. Rarely, MPNs develop into an acute leukaemia.
There are 3 main types of MPN.
Essential thrombocythaemia (ET)
Essential thrombocythaemia (ET) is when the body makes too many blood-clotting cells. These are called platelets. Some people with ET have a higher risk of getting a blood clot (thrombosis). A very small number of people with ET may develop myelofibrosis.
Polycythaemia vera (PV)
In people with myelofibrosis (MF), the bone marrow becomes scarred. This means it cannot make blood cells properly.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our blood cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pan-London Haemato-Oncology Clinical Guidelines Acute Leukaemias and Myeloid Neoplasms Part 4: Myeloproliferative Neoplasms. January 2020. Available from www.rmpartners.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Pan-London-MPN-Guidelines-Jan-2020.pdf (accessed July 2022).
Pan-London Haemato-Oncology Clinical Guidelines Acute Leukaemias and Myeloid Neoplasms Part 5: Myelodysplastic Syndromes. Available from www.rmpartners.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Pan-London-MDS-Guideline-Jan-2020.pdf (accessed July 2022).
European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). Myelodysplastic Syndromes: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. 2020. Available from www.esmo.org/guidelines/guidelines-by-topic/haematological-malignancies/myelodysplastic-syndromes.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist.
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