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Here's news and info about three primary blood cancers, Lymphoma, Myeloma and Leukemia with a decided patient's perspective.  I hope this helps whether you're newly diagnosed or veteran survivor.  

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This series of educational videos will help you learn about the blood cancer in which you have an interest.  We start with some basic biology including basic concepts to help you get started.   We suggest you start at the top and move down the list.  Don't be afraid to hit pause or rewind the video as you take notes.  

What is cancer?

Cancer also known as a malignant neoplasm is a class of diseases in which a cell or group(s) of cells exhibit uncontrolled growth, really cell division beyond normal limits and invasion and intrusion upon and distruction of adjacent tissues and sometimes metastasis which is the process of spreading to other parts of the body by way of the blood or lymph system.      

Cancer is a group of abnormal, unhealthy cells that arise from a loss of normal control of cell growth. In our healthy tissues, cells grow, divide and then die.  The rates of new cell growth and old cell death are normally kept in balance.  This natural cell growth and death process is complex and subject to malfunction causing your normal cells to become abnormal. Your body has self-repair capabilities that recognize damaged cells or abnormal cells and works efficiently behind the scenes to either destroy or control further growth of abnormal cells. But sometimes our natural defenses don't work properly.

In cancer, cellular balance goes awry. So when the process doesn't work properly, abnormal mutated cells do not self-destruct.  The normal cell death or mutated cell death is called apoptosis also known as programmed cell death, as natural as leaves falling from a tree after they have served a useful purpose.  Without apoptosis or programmed cell death, the damaged cells will not have not committed suicide. Instead, the abnormal cells with DNA errors experience uncontrolled growth resulting in cancer. 

This brief 2 minute video presents a solid conceptual understanding of the normal and abnormal cell growth and death process, a good start.  

 

 

Introduction to Cancer Biology

Presents conceptual description of bodies, organs and cells.  The human body is complex and wonderous machine, a collection of organs such as heart, lungs, brain which are made up of cells working together to accomplish their specific task.  Cancer is a group of misbehaving cells.  

Normal cells divide when they are signaled to do so.  Mitosis is the process of receiving such signals. Cells are also told "signaled" when to stop dividing. This cell division and signaling is a highly ordered process that keeps cell in check.  Cancer cells have the ability to continuing to divide indefinitely.  All of these cells are similar in appearance even though they perform very different functions. 

This is an excellent 12 minute video that will help you learn more the cell growth and death process and signaling to the nucleus of a cell at the DNA level which determines the growth profile of future normal or abnormal cells, produced by Cancerquest.org supported by Emory University in conjunction with Winship Cancer Institute.  

 

What is Blood Cancer - an introduction

From our friends at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, this short video presents some basic blood biology introducing the three primary types of blood cells:  red blood cells which gives color to the red blood and carries oxygen throughout the body, white blood cells fight against diseases and platelet blood cells help stop bleeding. 

Blood cancer is a condition when any one of these blood cells start to multiply and build up in the bone marrow and other tissues.  The no longer can perform the perform the function for which they were made.    For example, a platelet can no longer stop the bleeding.  A white blood cell can no longer protect from an invading force or fight infections, essentially impairing your immune system that helps keeps you healthy.  The red blood cell can no longer deliver the much needed oxygen to organs such as the brain.  These abnormal blood cells represent three basic types of blood cancers, Lymphoma, Leukemia and Myeloma. 

This is a simple 1 minute introduction which is easily understood by children and adults.  

 

Myeloma for beginners

Myeloma a disease of the bone marrow, a type of tumor, a disease of the immune system, a disease of plasma cells which normally produce antibodies that protect us from other disease such as polio and typhoid.  But with Myeloma the plasma cell has become malignant and grows in an uncontrolled way. 

Myeloma can cause a number of different problems.  Because Myeloma lives in the bone marrow it can cause the bone to break down, lose calcium,  weaken thus causing pain, even fracture the bones.  Bone health is an important topic for Myeloma patients.   Because calcium in the bone is affected, there can be high deposits of calcium in the blood stream which can cause brain function issues such as the patient being confused.  Myeloma proteins can also affect kidneys, worsened by dehydration, so its important to check the health of kidneys.  Myeloma is not a common as lung cancer, patients generally don’t present with Myeloma symptoms until the disease progression is well underway.  We still don’t know why some patients get Myeloma.  Perhaps environmental issues. 

It’s important that patients feel part of the treatment.  Patients should stay active, physicans encourage patients to remain fit, stay strong, exercise, consider healthy levels of exercise in spite of the desire to slow down.   No need for some weird and wonderful diet, eat healthy.

Each patient is an individual and his or her disease can present in a wide variety of ways.  Myeloma physicans are normally part of a team, for example renal doctors look at kidneys, orthopedic surgeon may look after bone health issues.  Over the last five years there have been dramatic improvements in the treatment and care of Myeloma patients. There are many reasons to be hopeful and optimistic for patients living with this particular blood cancer.   Excellent 9 minute video introduction from our friends at Myeloma UK in the United Kingdom at myeloma.org.uk

 

In the Blood Leukemia

Leukemias are cancers of the blood - what scientists call "liquid tumors" -- unlike the solid tumors in the tissues attacked by other cancers. Very helpful interview with Dr. George Daley, Whitehead Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston has dedicated his career to cracking the mysteries of leukemia. He has had limited success and is now doing research on the use of stem cells from a patient's bone marrow.

Update on current treatment of Leukemia, discussion of DNA code, the sequence.  Cancer is a genetic disease, leukemia is in fact a dozen of different blood cancers, at least that is what doctors have believed for some time.  The link between genome and cancer is key.  The cure may lie in the genetic diagnosis of Leukemia. Interview with Dr. Todd Golub of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.  Basic information about types of Leukemia, Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).  Researchers are identifying the gene mutation responsible for the cancer and the drug company, Novartis made a drug designed to inhibit the gene- Gleevac which causes remission in 95% of Chronic Myeloid Leukemias.  CML killed a dear friend of mine, a young college intern working at our high tech firm.  His bone marrow transplant failed.  He Gleevac been available only a few years earlier, Tony would have survived.  

The drug Gleevac is like the 'silver bullet' that targets the cancer cell and leaves the normal cell untouched for CML patients.  My own primary chemo, really biologic therapy more recently is centered around these very targeting agents to kill off only the bad cells. This is a time to be very hopeful as emerging technologies are wining new battles every day.    

"Genetics and genomics have expanded the arsenal of anti-leukemia weapons, DNA chips, silver bullet drugs, embryonic stem cells are all in development.  The future is promising. The present is still dangerous.  But leukemia is slowly giving ground".  Excellent commentary during this 10 minute video from Emmy Award Winning Correspondent and Producer, Lucky Severson. 

 

What is Chronic Myeloid (or Myelogeneous) Leukemia?

This video starts with a discussion about bone marrow, stem cells, red and white blood cell and platelets.  Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) is a cancer of the white blood cell,that comes from an acquired genetic abnormality.  During cell division, some of the DNA from chromosome number 9 is transferred to chromosome number 22.  This change is called the Philadelphia Chromosome.  When this abnormality occurs the body signals too many stem cells to develop into a type of white blood cell called a granulocyte

Some of the granulocytes never mature.  Tthe immature granulocytes are called blasts.  As the cancer granulocytes and blasts multiply in the blood system and bone marrow, fewer healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets can be produced.   As the spleen also produces white blood cells, the cancer also develops in the spleen. CML develops slowly. 

Common symptoms are anemia, weight loss, fever and sometimes an enlarged spleen.   The current form of treatment for CML includes Chemotherapy, Radiation, Stem cell transplant and sometimes surgery to remove the spleen.   Prognosis depends on a numbers of factors such as the stage of the disease, the age of the patient and the overall health of the patient. 

This is an opportunity to remind our dear readers about the “health dividend” that you enjoy if you have maintained a healthy lifestyle.  I believe we should all be ready for battle with a stronger healthy body.

Your physician is the best source of information concerning your care and treatment.  I hope this 2 minute video helps prepare you for an in depth discussion with your oncologist and primary care physician.  Be confident, remember you are an individual not another statistic.  Engage the best healthcare professionals you can find.  You are now heading in the right direction seeking good information. 

 

What is Lymphoma?

A type of cancer that begins in the immune system cells called lymphocytes.    Like other cancers, Lymphoma occurs when your lymphocytes are in a state of uncontrolled cell growth and multiplication, unchecked.  This video presents basic information about lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, diaphragm, liver, and your body’s lymphatic system.  There are two basic types of Lymphoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL) also called Hodgkin’s disease and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL).  HL can occur in both children and adults.  NHL can occur at any age and the incidence of NHL increases with age.  The average age at diagnosis is about 65 years old.  

What causes Lymphoma?  Genetics, Carcinogens (cancer causing agents) and other medical factors.  What are the symptoms of Lymphoma?   Swelling in the neck, underarm or groin.  Sometimes there is swelling in the spleen.  Non-specific symptoms also include fever, chills, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, lethargy, fatique, itching. 

How is Lymphoma diagnosed and staged?  X-rays, Computer Tomography (CT) scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.  Also Lymphangiogram, Gallium scan and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans).

How is Lymphoma treated?   Chemotherapy, Radiation and a variety of emerging clinical options.

How can Lymphoma be prevented?  Avoid "common sense" risk factors such as smoking and obesity.  Some risk factors such as family history (genetics) or age can’t be avoided.  There are no known ways to prevent Lymphoma.  However physicians recommend you avoid known risk factors and viral infections.   The treatment options and results from a variety of therapies including novel agents are encouraging.  

 

 

Immune System- What are Natural Killer Cells?

Natural Killer (NK) cells are the most aggressive white cells in our immune system.  NK's are really cool cells that can often do the job, kill the cancer cells. he bad boys.   They are lymphocytes with no immunological memory. They comprise about 5 – 15% of the total lymphocyte population.  They are called Natural Killer (NK) cells because they don’t have to recognize a specific antigen (antibody generator) invader before releasing their killing toxins to destroy for example, a viral infected cell or cancer cell.  They target tumor cells and protect us against a wide variety of infectious microbes.

Many blood cancer patients who have had Rituximab (a monoclonal antibody) are familiar with the concept where Rituximab marks the malignant B cell(s) and the Natural Killer cell(s) comes along a kills that marked cell.  "Here's one, now get it". My blood cancer, Waldenstroms is a B cell malignancy.  For many Waldenstrom patients, Rituximab can be used to mark the malignant (actually all B cells) and the NK cell will destroys them, good and bad.

Anytime I got a Rituximab infusion, typically 4 hours, I often visualized the Rituximab monoclonal antibody marking the malignant B cell, something like marking an X with a can of spray paint, and then our good friend the NK cell came along to pick off the marked cell.  Unfortunately, I don't respond well to Rituximab; the terms are relapse and refractory.  So these NK cells are really important in helping fight some cancers.  Accordingly, researchers are trying to find ways to encourage our immune system to develop more NK cell activity especially in immune suppressed patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or a viral disease where immune suppression occurs.

So the NK cell is one of the key soldiers in the fight against cancer cell growth, as I said, a really cool cell.  There is a downside to these NK cells, they can also kill good immunoglobulins such as IgA, IgG and IgM which normally protect us

 

The Immune System Lecture

Why an immune system?  Attack from outside, attack from inside and lines of defense.  Discussion about Hematology - the study of blood,  Immunology - the study of the system that fights infectious disease and Microbiology - the study of microscopic organisms.  Epidemiology, a big word meaning the study of the causes and distribution and control of disease.

This is an excellent comprehensive presentation about our immune system.  Put your feet up, relax and enjoy this 60 minute video, well done.  

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