Once a cancer has been diagnosed, it is very important to know where the cancer may have spread.
This is the “stage” of the cancer – the lower the number, the less it has spread. Knowing the stage allows your medical team to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.
Types of staging tests include:
- Blood test – An analysis of a sample of blood
- Cytogenetic analysis – An examination of the chromosomes of cells
- Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) test – A test used to check for chromosome abnormalities
- Immunophenotyping – A test used to find out if the patient’s blood cancer cells are B cells or T cells
- Molecular testing (PCR) – A test used to evaluate chromosomal abnormalities
- Biopsy – The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
Types of scans and procedures include:
- A bone marrow aspiration – A test that involves taking a sample of fluid and cells from the marrow through a special needle. The sample is often taken from a patient’s hip bone.
- A bone marrow biopsy – A test that is done by removing a very small amount of bone filled with marrow cells. The sample is often taken from the patient’s hip bone.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) – A small amount of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord is removed and examined.
- CT scan (computed tomography) – An X-ray procedure that creates detailed, highly accurate cross-sectional body images.
- PET scan (positron emission tomography) – An imaging test used to light up cancer in different parts of the body. A short-lived radioactive substance is injected prior to the scan. Cancerous tissue will build up more of the substance and appear brighter than normal tissue on the PET images. Other non-cancerous tissues, such as areas of inflammation, may also “light up.”
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – An imaging technique that provides detailed images of body structures. It uses a magnetic field instead of the X-rays used in a CT scan. It can measure the size (or change in size) of tumors or organs like the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.
The treatment for blood cancer varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use a combination of chemotherapy, drug therapy, blood and marrow transplants, radiation or new targeted therapy to treat or control your cancer, customized uniquely for you.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves using drugs that slow down, damage or kill cancer cells. This may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks. Your team may also prescribe drugs and other treatments to reduce or eliminate the side effects associated with chemotherapy.
Radiation Therapy (“Radiotherapy”). Radiation therapy involves using X-rays and other types of medical radiation aimed at specific parts of the body. Radiation is used to kill cancer cells, prevent them from developing or recurring, and ease many of the symptoms caused by cancer. It can be used together with chemotherapy for certain cancers (this is called “chemo-radiotherapy”).
Targeted Therapy. Targeted therapies are drugs or other substances that directly interfere with cancer growth and progression on a molecular level. They may be taken (with few side effects) on their own or in combination with standard chemotherapy. Many new targeted therapies, including vaccines and gene therapies, are currently in development.
Blood & Marrow Transplantation. Intensive chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment can severely damage the bone marrow’s ability to produce cells, so doctors use stem cell transplantation to restore normal blood production after patients receive large doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Learn more about the process here.
Platelet Transfusion. Platelets are small cells that stick to the site of a blood vessel injury and seal it off to stop bleeding. Lymphoma patients often need an infusion of donor platelets.
Platelets can be taken from one donor if they are obtained by apheresis, which uses a machine to remove the platelets from a donor’s blood and then returns the plasma and other cells back to the donor.
Bisphosphonates. Bone thinning and fractures are major problems for myeloma patients. Biphosphonates are drugs that help to limit bone loss. They include pamidronate and zoledronic acid.