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Raising Awareness of Leukemia & Lymphoma: The Blood Cancers

Blood Cells

Ribbons in assorted colors may be found each month to symbolize various forms of cancer and other diseases to raise awareness for. Orange and bright green ribbons mark September as the month of the blood cancers: Leukemia and Lymphoma. There are varying types of these diseases and both involve the blood or bone marrow of those affected. Jan. M. Rothman, M.D., Medical Oncologist and Hematologist and Director of the Multidisciplinary Thoracic Cancer Clinic at The Regional Cancer Center, explains the importance of recognizing these diseases and bringing awareness to the public.

“Leukemia is an ambiguous word as it can mean many things,” says Dr. Rothman. “Like lymphoma, essentially it is the presence of cells that are abnormal and can proliferate and expand over time therefore more aggressive treatments must be given quickly.” Although there are frequently more cases of brain cancer, incidences of Leukemia and Lymphoma average about 1,000-2,000 cases in the Erie area alone.

Lymphoma typically involves the growth of abnormal lymph nodes and damaged white blood cells, while Leukemia specifically involves abnormal white blood cells.

The two main forms of Lymphoma are Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is most common. Non-Hodgkin’s occurs when white blood cells become abnormal, while Hodgkin’s occurs due to an enlarged lymph node, occasionally spreading to other organs.

Leukemia consists of four main types, which are diagnosed based on how aggressive the disease is progressing: Acute Myeloid, Chronic Myeloid, Acute Lymphocytic, and Chronic Lymphocytic. The Acute cases of Leukemia often mean the cancer is spreading rapidly, while chronic cases, which are more common, are in the beginning stages of cancer.  “If the disease is more aggressive, stem-cell transplants may be needed, while in the early stages of the disease, radiation can be part of the protocol,” states Dr. Rothman. Although there are various types of diseases within Lymphoma - as it is a combination of several linked cancers in the body - it can be broken down by four different stages, similar to Leukemia, depending on how advanced the disease is. With either disease, treatment may consist of something as simple as observational immunal therapy to more extensive treatment like chemotherapy and radiation.

Signs and symptoms with any Lymphoma or Leukemia can involve fevers, weight loss, night sweats, and itching. With increased risk of infection, patients can experience shortness of breath or become anemic, which means they would have a lack of healthy red blood cells. Depending on the scope and extent of the disease, kidney failure and gout can also be potential symptoms.

“With either type of disease, patients can be diagnosed regardless of sex or race, however it is associated with certain patient demographics,” states Dr. Rothman. Typically patients diagnosed with Leukemia or Lymphoma are in their 50’s or 60’s. The diseases can be very difficult to detect and prevent, as they can develop at any stage.

Dr. Rothman also states that “These diseases are often not transmitted from generation to generation.” With an increased public awareness of these diseases, breakthroughs in research have been born, making these once fatal diagnoses curable through various treatment options. Still, there are some who are unaware of Lymphoma and Leukemia, and about 60% of patients are misdiagnosed, which makes September 15th, the day to raise awareness of these diseases, an even more significant date.

“Many of these diseases are inherently easy to treat,” says Dr. Rothman. “Most patients can live a completely normal life.” Once a patient is diagnosed, it is critical that they maintain a good rapport with their physician to ensure that treatment will be extremely effective, and that they remain educated through each process. The more awareness is brought to Leukemia and Lymphoma, the better prepared everyone will be to fight against the blood cancers.

Jan M. Rothman, M.D. Medical Oncology and Hematology
Dr. Rothman received his medical degree from Newcastle Upon Tyne Medical School in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. He completed his residency as the Chief Resident at the New York Infirmary-Beekman Downtown Hospital in New York, NY and his fellowship from Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, NY in Hematology and Oncology. He is Board Certified. Dr. Rothman has practiced at The Regional Cancer Center for 21 years.