According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and in 2020 alone, almost 10 million deaths from this condition were recorded.
The WHO points out that cancer is produced by transforming normal cells into tumour cells within processes that usually lead to precancerous lesions becoming malignant. The alterations result from interacting with the patient’s genetic factors or external agents.
This condition that has attacked so many people around the globe is explained by the haematologist Fabiola Valvert as “a genetic alteration that usually gives tumour cells an advantage for their proliferation, so they tend to divide quickly and do not die .”
As a result, they accumulate and lead to what we know as cancer. According to Valvert, a doctor at the Cancer Institute, cancer can appear anywhere in the body.
Malignant cells could also appear and affect the blood. Among the consequences of these cancers, diseases such as leukaemia, multiple myeloma and lymphomas stand out.
According to data compiled by America’s Health Foundation through a report made in the Central American and Caribbean region by Janssen pharmaceuticals, in Guatemala in 2020, blood cancer claimed more lives than breast, lung or cervical cancer.
It was announced that more than 1,271 new patients with leukaemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are diagnosed annually in the country. In addition, mortality rates in the country are higher among men.
Types of cancer in the blood
According to data from America’s Health Foundation, blood cancers can be divided into three conditions :
Leukaemia: Cancer of the body’s blood tissue in which the bone marrow produces a typical white blood cells that are unable to fight certain infections. It is distinguished in acute and other chronic leukaemias.
Multiple myeloma is cancer in which the bone marrow produces plasma cells that produce antibodies to fight infections, but these cells grow out of control. Instead of making antibodies, cancer cells make abnormal and harmful proteins.
Lymphoma (including non-Hodgkin): Affects the lymphatic system -including lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland and bone marrow- and affects other systems and organs.
Each disease has different characteristics, but their symptoms can be similar, as the information compiled by America’s Health Foundation.
These include bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, bone pain, frequent infections, anaemia, weight loss, inflammation, itchy skin, fever, fatigue, constipation, nausea and even confusion.
Although these cases vary from patient to patient, some similar risk factors include genetic disorders, radiation, autoimmune disorders and infections, smoking, family history, and chemical exposures.
In situations of myeloma, Fabiola Valvert comments that treatments based on immunotherapies can be carried out so that the disease becomes chronic since it is very a typical and is not always curable. Autologous stem cell transplants are also performed in those situations.
Otherwise, leukaemias can be cured, but they require different treatments since they vary between chronic and acute, which is why some involve accompaniments from chemotherapy, others from radiotherapy and even bone marrow transplantation, according to the specialist.
In the same way, lymphomas can be curable from the methodologies that involve leukaemias.
To avoid these instances, and in general, to anticipate better health conditions, specialists recommend paying attention to the body.
According to Dr María Tejada, if people feel uncomfortable with their physiological performance, they must always seek information from doctors who have the support of medical institutions.
He suggests carrying out an annual medical check-up and considering the existence of specialists such as oncologists and haematologists. In Guatemala, you can go to places like the Institute of Cancerology.
The specialist points out that you should also lead a healthy life with a diet rich in nutrients, drink plenty of water, avoid prolonged exposure to the Sun, and avoid radiation.
Resilience and Awareness
David Valle is 19 years old and knows very well what it means to live with leukaemia, one of the three types of cancer that, according to America’s Health Foundation, impacts the lives of more than 20,500 people in Central America and the Caribbean.
Valle was detected with the disease when he was 12 years old. His family found out when one day he was taken to the emergency room after a period of tiredness and nasal epistaxis that would not stop and had worsened.
Although the recovery treatment took two years and six months, the young man assures that the most complex part of the disease -in addition to the fear, the pain and the costs- consisted of persevering and optimism.
According to Dr Mejía, leukaemia is highly feared and is believed to be incurable, a myth that medical advances have mitigated. This also applies to lymphomas.
“Hope and faith must be sought, but patients must also know everything about the diseases, so they are in good treatment,” says Tejada.
The specialist and her colleague Fabiola point out that society often does not talk so much about blood cancer since there are other types of cancer that, even though they are just as important, receive more attention and receive more attention campaigns. However, they point out the need to underline the existence of these conditions, their causes and the number of cases that occur to prevent.