What are Blood Cancers?

Blood Cancers: Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma

Hematologic cancers, (cancers of the blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes) include leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Every year, more than 100,000 cases of blood, bone marrow, and lymph node cancers are diagnosed in the United States, and more than 50,000 people die from these cancers. Among children and teens less than 20 years old, leukemia is the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death.

For a video introduction click here: Dr. Thomas Kipps: An introduction to the CLL Research Consortium and biology of CLL


Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood. The two main types of leukemia are lymphocytic leukemia, which involves an increase of white blood cells called lymphocytes; and myelogenous leukemia (also known as myeloid or myelocytic leukemia), which involves an increase in white blood cells called granulocytes.

Leukemia can be acute or chronic. Acute forms of leukemia progress rapidly, while chronic forms of leukemia progress slowly.

Scientists do not fully understand all the causes of leukemia, but research has found many associations. For example, chronic exposure to benzene at work and exposure to large doses of radiation have been shown to cause leukemia in some cases. Benzene in cigarettes has been associated with an increased risk of leukemia of myeloid cells.


Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that start in the lymph system; mainly the lymph nodes. The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma spreads in an orderly manner from one group of lymph nodes to another. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma spreads through the lymphatic system in a non-orderly manner. The causes of lymphoma are unknown.


Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. In myeloma, the cells overgrow, forming a mass or tumor that is located in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found in the center of the bone, where red cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made.

Age is the most significant risk factor for developing myeloma. People under age 45 rarely develop the disease. Those aged 67 years or older are at greatest risk of developing myeloma. Men are more likely than women to develop myeloma, and myeloma is about twice as common among African Americans as among Caucasians.

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