A Hematologist is a doctor specializing in the treatment of diseases affecting the blood. In a general sense this can involve anything from treating bleeding disorders like hemophilia to studying and performing blood transfusions. In the context of treating cancer, it involves a focus on such related issues as lymphoma and leukemia, and the practice of performing bone marrow transplants in treating these malignant diseases.
Blood is produced in your body’s bone marrow, which is why blood cancers often get their start here. In most cases normal development of red and white blood cells and platelets is interrupted by abnormal growth. These cancerous cells inhibit a patient’s blood from clotting properly and fighting infection. Blood cancers fall into three main groups: leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
Leukemia is caused by excess production of cancerous white blood cells. These cells do not fight infection as healthy white blood cells do, instead preventing the production of platelets and red blood cells in the bone marrow. Lymphoma is a blood cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. This system, when functioning properly, produces cells that aid the immune system and removes unneeded fluid from the body. Patients suffering from this type of cancer experience impairments to the immune system as lymphoma cells proliferate and overwhelm the lymph nodes. These cells are created when lymphocytes, which ordinarily are used by your body to fight infection, become cancerous and stop functioning. Myeloma affects the body’s production of plasma. Ordinary plasma cells produce antibodies to fight off infection and diseases, but myeloma stops the production of these antibodies. This leaves a patient’s immune system in a weakened state, making them dangerously susceptible to infection.
These blood cancers are often treated by a Hematologist using bone marrow transplants. During this procedure, a patient’s bone marrow is replaced with a small amount of healthy marrow from a matched donor. This donor may be a relative, but must have the same blood type as the patient to prevent rejection of the graft. Often this treatment is combined with chemotherapy and radiation before the transplant. Browse Cancer Center of Kansas’s website for more information about blood cancers and their treatments.