It is easy to take your blood for granted. It’s not something you really see every day, but your blood serves nearly countless essential roles in your body. It transports oxygen and nutrients to every cell and tissue in your body, and supports your immune system.
Blood disorders are not uncommon, and there are various forms of cancer that can affect your blood, resulting in serious health issues. Cancer is characterized by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells. These cells can crowd out other cells or cut off nutrients to other cells and organs.
The two most common types of cancer that affect blood are leukemia and multiple myeloma. While these are the most common hematologic malignancies, they can manifest in unique ways and require different forms of cancer treatment. Learn more about the difference between multiple myeloma vs leukemia in the comprehensive guide from Immunity Therapy Center below.
What Is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects plasma cells, which are a specific type of white blood cell. Much like other blood cells, plasma cells are produced in your bone marrow, the soft tissue found within bones. When your body notices a potentially harmful microbe, B cell (a type of immune cell) matures and turns into a plasma cell. Plasma cells then release proteins known as antibodies (also called immunoglobulins), which help to identify and neutralize microbial threats to prevent infections.
With multiple myeloma, plasma cells become cancerous. The uncontrolled growth of malignant plasma cells crowds out healthy cells. Furthermore, instead of producing a normal antibody, the cancerous cells produce abnormal antibodies called monoclonal immunoglobulin, M-spike, or paraprotein. These abnormal antibodies are unable to fight off infections like a normal antibody can, and they can even sometimes contribute to complications.
Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma
Specific signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma will vary from person to person. Many people have what is called smoldering multiple myeloma, an early stage of the disease. Smoldering multiple myeloma does not present with any symptoms and is considered a precancerous condition.
If you have smoldering multiple myeloma, you may not require any treatment beyond monitoring. For some people, smoldering myeloma may not ever develop into active multiple myeloma. So, what are the final stages of myeloma? If the cancer has not responded to any treatment, the final stages of myeloma include the spread of cancer to the different organs of your body.
If you do experience signs and symptoms, they may include:
- Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss
- Confusion and brain fog
- Physical fatigue
- Weak or numb legs
- Excessive thirst
As plasma cells grow out of control, they can crowd out other blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. That can ultimately lead to a low blood count or even anemia. Anemia is characterized by a shortage of healthy red blood cells, which are responsible for bringing oxygen to your cells and tissue.
Anemia can result in weakness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and other symptoms. You may similarly experience low platelet counts. Platelets are responsible for helping your blood clot. A deficiency in platelets can lead to wounds that keep bleeding and frequent bruising.
As plasma cells are made within the bone marrow, cancerous or malignant plasma cells can also interfere with the cells involved with bone formation and maintenance. You have two cells that keep your bones healthy.
Osteoclasts break down old bone material to make way for new bone made by osteoblasts. However, excess plasma cells essentially tell osteoclasts to speed up their function, leading to worn down bones that osteoblasts are unable to keep up with. This can lead to excess calcium in the blood while making you more prone to bone pain and potential fractures.
As mentioned, plasma cells are also an important part of the immune system and are responsible for creating antibodies. Cancerous plasma cells result in malfunctioning plasma cells that are unable to stave off even basic infections. This can lead to you getting sick more often and otherwise being more vulnerable to infections.
Can multiple myeloma be cured? Although there is no cure for multiple myeloma, there are is a wide range of treatment options you can
What Is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a broad type of cancer that affects early blood-forming cells. It is the most common type of blood-related cancer. While it is best known for affecting white blood cells, leukemia comes in several forms that affect several other types of blood cells.
Leukemia is typically broken down into acute and chronic. Acute leukemia affects immature blood cells, called blasts. This prevents their proper function while also stimulating rapid reproduction that can be quite aggressive.
Chronic leukemia affects blood cells that are more mature, leading to a slower cell replication. The slowness of chronic leukemia means that affected cells can actually function normally for some period of time, enough that early forms of chronic leukemia may present no noticeable symptoms.
Along with acute and chronic categories, leukemia can be broken down into lymphocytic and myelogenous (or myeloid). Lymphocytic leukemia affects lymphocytes, which make up lymphatic tissue in your immune system. Myelogenous leukemia affects myeloid cells, which are cells that eventually form into white blood cells, red blood cells, and cells that produce platelets.
Symptoms of Leukemia
The exact signs and symptoms of leukemia will differ based on the type of leukemia. Chronic forms of leukemia generally show no symptoms in early stages, while acute leukemia can be aggressive with symptoms that appear quickly and suddenly.
Some common symptoms of leukemia include:
- A fever and chills
- Persistent fatigue and physical weakness
- Unintended weight loss
- Swelling in the lymph node, spleen, or liver
- Recurring nosebleeds
- Persistent, excessive sweating, regardless of temperature
- Pain or tenderness in your bones
These symptoms have a great deal of overlap with multiple myeloma. Similar to multiple myeloma, leukemia (particularly lymphocytic leukemia) can interfere with your immune system function, leading to more frequent infections.
Leukemia cells may also build up inside your joints or around your bones. This can lead to persistent pain in your bones and joints.
Leukemia cells can also cause abnormal swelling in the abdomen. This is actually swelling in the liver and spleen, which are organs designed to filter out toxins and waste material in your blood. The build up of leukemia cells in your blood can end up in both your liver and spleen, causing both to swell. You might notice your belly feeling swollen or feeling full after a fairly small meal. While the lower ribs typically cover both the liver and spleen, the swelling may be prominent enough that your doctor can feel them.
Lymphocytic leukemia can also cause swelling n your lymph nodes. This can be noticeable in lymph nodes close to the surface of your body, like in your groin, underarms, or sides of your neck. A lymph node located deeper in your abdomen may also swell, but this is typically only noticeable via X-ray or other imaging tests.
The Difference Between Leukemia and Multiple Myeloma
Leukemia and multiple myeloma have a lot of overlap when it comes to how they manifest and their symptoms, and both are types of blood cancer. The main difference between the two is the type of cells involved. Multiple myeloma specifically affects your plasma cells.
Leukemia affects lymphocytes and myeloid cells. Understanding this difference is the key to determining the right treatment plan for combating the cancer. If you believe you might have either blood cancer, consult your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. From there, you can determine the cancer treatment options that work best for your needs.
- Cancer.org. What Is Multiple Myeloma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/multiple-myeloma/about/what-is-multiple-myeloma.html
- Cancer.org. Leukemia. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemia.html
- Cancer.org. Signs and Symptoms of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.