Blood cancer

Blood cancers affect the blood, bone marrow, or the lymphatic system and include conditions such as leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myelodysplasia, and myeloma.

Blood cancers: learn more

Comprehensive and personalized care

When you choose University of Colorado Health, you gain access to our integrated program for blood cancer and blood and marrow transplant, an approach you won’t usually find at other cancer centers. It means you receive personalized, coordinated, and comprehensive care—and you’re able to work with the same familiar and trustworthy team of experts for as long as your treatment lasts. In addition, you benefit from the safety and comfort of our special facilities designed to protect your weakened immune system.

Team-based treatment

At UCHealth, a multidisciplinary team of doctors and support professionals from many fields – including our elite, Magnet-designated nursing staff – collaborate to develop the best plan of care for you, and they stay with you from your initial appointment through treatment and aftercare. Your expert medical team members may include oncologists, hematologists, infectious disease specialists, nurse practitioners, and dieticians.

Cancer staging and detection tests

Because no two people develop a blood cancer in the same way, we offer a wide array of resources for proper evaluation of your situation-and we use that information to create a personalized plan that fits your specific needs.

Once a cancer has been diagnosed, our specialists need to know where it 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.

Staging tests

Any combination of these tests and procedures may be used to find and classify (stage) cancer:

  • Biopsy. Removes cells or tissues for viewing under a microscope to check for signs of cancer
  • Blood test. Analyzes a sample of blood
  • Cytogenetic analysis. Examines the chromosomes of cells
  • Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Checks for chromosome abnormalities
  • Immunophenotyping. Finds out if blood cancer cells are B cells or T cells
  • Molecular testing (PCR). Evaluates chromosomal abnormalities

Scans and procedures

Any combination of these scans and procedures may be used to find and classify (stage) cancer:

  • Bone marrow aspiration. Uses a special needle to take a sample of fluid and cells from the marrow-often of the hip bone
  • Bone marrow biopsy. Removes a very small amount of bone filled with marrow cells-often from the hip bone
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap). Removes and examines a small amount of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
  • CT scan (computed tomography). Uses a type of X-ray to create detailed, highly accurate, cross-sectional images of the body
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Uses a magnetic field instead of X-rays to provide detailed images of body structures
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography). Uses an injection of a short-lived radioactive substance to create detailed images of body structures that help identify cancer and areas of inflammation in different parts of the body

Blood cancer treatments and therapies

Male patient listening to doctorTreatment for blood cancer varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use any combination of chemotherapy, drug therapy, blood and marrow transplants, radiation, or new targeted therapies to treat or control your cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs that slow down, damage, or kill cancer cells. It may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks each. Your team may also prescribe drugs to reduce or eliminate chemotherapy’s side effects.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) uses X-rays and other types of medical radiation aimed at specific parts of the body. The radiation kills cancer cells, prevents cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improves many of cancer’s symptoms. For certain cancers, radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy and called chemo-radiotherapy.

Targeted therapies

Single drugs or combinations of drugs taken through intravenous injections or as prescribed tablets/capsules help fight the cancer itself or the side effects from chemotherapy. Drugs may be taken in repeating patterns (cycles) that usually last three to four weeks. Anti-cancer drugs or other substances that directly interfere with cancer growth and progression at the molecular level may be taken-with few side effects on their own or combined with standard chemotherapy. Many new targeted therapies, including vaccines and gene therapies, are currently in development.

Blood and marrow transplantation

Because intensive chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment can severely damage the bone marrow’s ability to produce cells, stem cell transplantation helps restore normal blood production.

Platelet transfusion

Platelets are small cells that stick to the site of a blood vessel injury and seal it to stop bleeding. Apheresis is the process that removes platelets from a donor’s blood by a machine that then returns plasma and other cells to the donor. People experiencing lymphoma often need an infusion of donor platelets.

Bisphosphonates

This class of drugs-including pamidronate and zoledronic acid-helps limit bone loss, bone thinning, and fractures, especially in people experiencing myeloma.