Is cancer in bone marrow curable?
Bone marrow is a soft, spongy tissue that is in the center of most bones. Several types of cancer, including multiple myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma, can develop in the bone marrow.
What to know about bone marrow cancer
Bone marrow contains stem cells that develop into various types of Blood cell, including:
- red blood cells, which carry oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body
- white blood cells, which fight infection
- platelets, which help with blood clotting
The body usually produces these blood cells when it needs them, such as when old blood cells die. Bone marrow cancer develops when these cells replicate too quickly.
In this article, we discuss the different types of bone marrow cancer, including their symptoms and how to treat them.
The symptoms that a person experiences will depend on various factors, including the type of cancer, how aggressive it is, and its location in the body.
Symptoms of multiple myeloma may include:
- bone pain or fractures
- increased rate of infections
- changes in urination frequency
- nausea or vomiting
- unexplained weight loss
Symptoms of leukemia may include:
- shortness of breath
- bone pain
- unexplained weight loss
- night sweats
- enlarged lymph nodes
- a swollen spleen
- frequent infections
- pale complexion
- frequent and unexplained bruising
- prolonged bleeding from small wounds
- body aches
The symptoms of lymphoma are similar to those of leukemia, but they might also include the following:
- a persistent cough
- itchy skin
- lymph node pain after consuming alcohol
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- itchy skin
- rashes or skin lumps
- feeling full or bloated, due to an enlarged spleen
Doctors categorize bone marrow cancer according to the type of cell that it affects.
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that occurs in the plasma cells, which form in the bone marrow. Plasma cells play an important role in the immune system and make the antibodies that the body needs to fight foreign bacteria.
Leukemias are cancers of the white blood cells. Sometimes, these types of cancer start in other types of blood cell and then spread, or metastasize, into the bone marrow.
Acute leukemias are fast growing cancers, while chronic leukemias grow slowly. There are several different types of leukemia, including:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL): This type of leukemia is more common in children than in adults.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): AML is most common in older adults, although children may also develop it.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): This slow growing leukemia originates in the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and it is more common in older adults.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML): CML is rare. It starts in the bone marrow and spreads to the blood and other body tissues.
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML): This type of leukemia grows in the bone marrow cells that produce other blood cells. It primarily affects older adults.
In people with lymphoma, cancer develops in the lymphocytes, which circulate in the blood and lymph tissue after their production in the bone marrow. Lymphoma can occur in many places in the body, including the bone marrow.
There are two main types of lymphoma:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: This type of lymphoma can develop anywhere in the body, and it affects many different types of lymphocyte.
- Hodgkin lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma is also a type of cancer that affects lymphocytes. It is distinct from non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to the presence of a specific type of abnormal cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell.
Before recommending any tests, a doctor will first ask the person about their medical history, current symptoms, and family history of bone marrow cancer.
A doctor may then request the following tests to help them diagnose bone marrow cancer:
Blood and urine tests: Blood or urine tests can detect a specific protein that enters the circulation due to multiple myeloma. Blood tests can also provide information on kidney function, electrolyte levels, and blood cell count.
Bone marrow aspiration: Doctors will use a specialized needle to puncture one of the bones under anesthesia and withdraw a small sample of bone marrow. A specialist will examine the sample under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.
Imaging tests: A doctor might use one of the following imaging tests to check for abnormal or damaged bones:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan
A doctor may also request some of these diagnostic tests during treatment to gauge the effectiveness of ongoing therapies or monitor the progression of the disease.