I've just been told I have blood cancer
Blood cancer terms
People diagnosed with blood cancer often say that there’s a whole new language to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare team to explain what unfamiliar words mean.
Here’s a guide to some common blood cancer terms you may come across:
Acute means fast growing. Acute blood cancer usually needs urgent treatment.
You have anaemia when you don’t have enough haemoglobin (found in red blood cells) in your blood. It can mean that your muscles don’t get as much energy as they need, so you may feel tired or short of breath.
B lymphocyte or B cell
This is a type of white blood cell which helps fight infection.
A biopsy is a procedure where a small sample of tissue is taken from the body to examine under a microscope. For some blood cancers, a lymph node or bone marrow biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Blood cells are cells that circulate in the blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Blood count, full blood count or FBC
This is a blood test that counts the number and type of cells in your blood.
Bone marrow is the spongy material inside your long bones where blood cells are made.
Chronic means slow growing. Chronic blood cancer may not need treatment straight away.
Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
A CNS is a highly qualified nurse who specialises in a particular area of healthcare. Some deal with all blood cancers, while others may specialise in a particular type of blood cancer. Your CNS is often your main point of contact for information and advice within your healthcare team.
Clinical trials are planned medical research studies involving patients. They aim to improve treatments and reduce any side effects treatments cause. They can be small trials involving only a few patients or large national trials.
These tests aim to find any genetic changes that could be linked to blood cancer. The results give doctors important information which helps them recommend the best treatments for you. They are carried out on samples of blood and bone marrow.
Fatigue describes a feeling of extreme tiredness which doesn’t go away after rest or sleep. It may be caused by the blood cancer itself or it might be a side effect of treatment.
Haematology is the study of blood diseases.
Your immune system is the network of cells, tissues and organs that protects your body against infection.
This test looks closely at the surface of cells, to see if there are any abnormal blood cells. This can help diagnose some types of blood cancer. The test is carried out on a blood or bone marrow sample.
Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer that affects blood cells in your bone marrow – usually white blood cells. The abnormal leukaemia cells crowd out normal blood cells leading to a range of symptoms.
A lumbar puncture removes a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from your spine so it can be tested to see if there are cancer cells there. It’s also used to inject chemotherapy drugs into the CSF to treat any cancer cells in your spine, or simply as a precaution.
Lymph node or lymph gland
Lymph nodes are bean-shaped organs that act as filters to catch viruses, bacteria and other potentially harmful particles that enter your body. They contain white blood cells, which fight infection.
A network of small tubes called lymph vessels run throughout your body. These carry a fluid called lymph, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells.
A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell. Normal lymphocytes keep you healthy by fighting infection.
Lymphoid blood cells
This is a term for certain white blood cells including infection-fighting lymphocytes.
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. The abnormal cells tend to cluster in your glands and elsewhere in your body, causing lumps.
This describes a small change in the DNA of a cell. If the mutation affects the way cells normally work, it can lead to cancer and other diseases.
Myeloid blood cells
This is a term for a group of cells including red blood cells, platelets and some white blood cells.
Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)
Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) is the name for a type of blood cancer where the bone marrow produces abnormal blood cells.
Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells in the bone marrow and makes it hard to fight off infection.
Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN)
Myeloproliferative neoplasms or MPNs are conditions where something goes wrong with blood cell production in the bone marrow. MPNs are blood cancers and there are three types: polycythaemia vera (PV), essential thrombocythaemia (ET) and myelofibrosis (MF).
Neutropenia is a condition where you have an abnormally low number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell that helps fight off infections) in your blood. It means your immune system is less good than usual at fighting off infections.
Plasma cells are white blood cells that makes antibodies to fight infections in your body.
Platelets are blood cells stick together and form clots to stop you bleeding, for example, if you have a cut or a bruise.
Red blood cells (erythrocytes)
Red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to all the tissues of your body. Muscles and other tissues need oxygen in order to work.
The aim of most treatment is to put you “in remission” which means that tests show no sign of cancer cells, or the level is so low it’s no longer a problem.
Staging measures how much cancer there is in the body. For some types of blood cancer, knowing the stage helps doctors decide on the best treatment.
Stem cells are cells at an early stage of development. They can grow into different types of cells, such as blood cells.
Steroids are drugs that are often used with chemotherapy to treat some types of blood cancer. Some steroids are taken as tablets. Others are given by injection into a vein (intravenously).
T lymphocyte or T cell
A T lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell that's normally involved in controlling the immune system and fighting infection.
Watch and wait
Watch and wait is a treatment approach for people with stable, slow growing blood cancers who have few or no symptoms. Watch and wait involves close monitoring instead of active treatment. You may also hear it called "active surveillance" or "watchful waiting".
White blood cells (leukocytes)
White blood cells are an important part of the immune system. which helps fight and prevent infection. There are several different types of white blood cell including neutrophils, B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes and monocytes.
Worried about anything or have questions?
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More information on Blood cancer
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I've just been told I have blood cancer
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Blood cancer tests
Blood cancer symptoms and signs
Blood cancer treatment
How does blood cancer start?
What causes blood cancer?
Blood cancer side effects
Watch and wait
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Blood Cancer UK health information