HealthONE - February 24, 2023

Cancer is a disease in which cells grow abnormally. For most types of cancer, these abnormal cells develop into a solid tumor, which can be addressed surgically or medically. Blood cancer, however, is unique as it doesn’t create a solid tumor, but instead creates abnormal cell growth in the blood – affecting many systems of the body and most notably, the immune system. Blood cancer requires highly specialized diagnosis and treatment from a team of specialists of several different types. The blood cancer program at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center recently has expanded and soon will be moving into a new space in the hospital’s recently constructed northwest tower. To commemorate the expansion, experts from the program are sharing five facts you should know about blood cancer.

  1. More than 1.1 million Americans are living with or in remission from blood cancer. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), one person in the United State is diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma every three minutes. LLS also reports that nearly 200,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer each year.
  2. Blood cancer does not have a widespread screening tool similar to mammography or colonoscopy. While tools such as mammography and colonoscopy can be given at regular intervals to detect the earliest stages of breast and colorectal cancer, blood cancer does not have a similar tool. Often patients are diagnosed after experiencing symptoms such as:
    1. Persistent fatigue
    2. Fever/chills
    3. Unexplained weight loss
    4. Night sweats
    5. Bruising
    6. Shortness of breath
    7. Swelling of the abdomen or extremities

“Often fatigue or increased bruising brings a patient to the doctor for testing and subsequently abnormal labs are detected,” Janina Bilem, RN, director of oncology services at Swedish Medical Center explains. “Then, they are referred to the oncologist for accurate diagnosis, staging and a treatment plan.”

  1. There are hundreds of blood cancer types, but three are the most commonly diagnosed.
    1. Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells or the cells that will become white blood cells.
    2. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, especially the lymph nodes—there are two primary types within this category: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
    3. Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells.

Lymphoma accounts for about 48% of blood cancer cancers, leukemia 33% and myeloma 19%.

  1. Survival rates are improving. As the field of cancer treatment continues to advance, survival rates for blood cancer continue to increase. Recent statistics reported by the National Cancer Institute’s SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results) show that leukemia’s five-year survival rate is 66% (up from 45% in the 1990s), non-Hodgkin lymphoma is at 75% (up from 54% in the 1990s) and Hodgkin lymphoma at 90% (up from 82% in the 1990s.)
  2. Survival rate increases are due, in part, to dedicated treatment centers run by specialized teams. Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center is one such program serving the south Denver and Colorado mountain west region. “Blood cancer patients have a very intense induction therapy where they have, on average, a 30-day inpatient stay,” Bilem explains. “At centers such as ours, we support the patient with multiple blood transfusions and continuous monitoring for infection because treatment causes them to have very low immunity and no morrow to make blood cells. Our physicians are not only highly qualified and experienced to treat these patients, but our nurses are all specialized and have long tenures at the hospital. The skill set of the nurses on our team is quite robust.” Bilem points out that the program also benefits from a dedicated oncology pharmacist on site and its connection with the global Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute network, through which patients have access to innovative clinical trials.

Oncology Pharmacist James Madaris furthers, “With blood cancer treatment, there is a lot of coordination behind the scenes. We have dedicated people—nurses, pharmacy, techs, oncologists, and so on -- who work together really well. We have a great rapport and regularly communicate to make necessary adjustments. Each has our own role, but we work together to provide the best treatment for our patients.”

To learn more about blood cancer treatment at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center, by visiting our website.