The three major types of blood cancer are leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. All three types usually affect the growth and function of white blood cells. Leukemia affects immature white blood cells, lymphoma affects lymphocytes, and myeloma affects plasma cells.
This information is from the American Society of Hematology.
These are the most common types of blood cancer, but there are also rare types that affect other kinds of blood cells, or that affect structures within the blood system, such as the spleen.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of blood cancer.
There are three main types of blood cancer. They are:
Blood cancers affect how blood cells grow and die. They typically cause a specific type of blood cell to grow abnormally, meaning they do not function as they should. For example, they may not provide protection against infections, or fail to clot when a person is bleeding.
In most cases, the cancer starts in the bone marrow, which is where the body makes new blood cells. Cancerous blood cells can live longer than healthy cells, meaning they crowd out the remaining healthy blood cells in the bone marrow and impair their production.
Below is more information on each type of blood cancer.
Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells that exist in bone marrow.
Bone marrow is responsible for making new blood cells. This process begins with stem cells, which have the potential to become a range of different types of blood cells.
Typically, these cells go through a cycle of maturation, multiplication, and death. In leukemia, though, young white blood cells do not mature as they should. They remain immature, functioning less well but multiplying and surviving better than healthy cells in the bone marrow.
Doctors classify cases of leukemia based on whether they are acute or chronic, and whether they begin in myeloid or lymphoid cells.
Acute types are fast growing, while chronic types are slow growing. Myeloid and lymphoid cells are different types of stem cells.
The broad subtypes include:
- Acute myeloid leukemia: This starts in the bone marrow and is more common in older adults.
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia: This type also starts in bone marrow, but is more common in children.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: This begins in white blood cells known as lymphocytes in the bone marrow and accounts for approximately
- Chronic myeloid leukemia: This begins in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and spreads to the blood. It accounts for approximately 10% of leukemias.
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia: This begins in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and spreads to the blood. It affects mostly older adults.
Leukemia most often affects adults, but among the cancers children and teenagers experience, it is the most common. In total, leukemia accounts for nearly 1 in 3 of all cancers in these age groups.
Lymphoma is a cancer that affects lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that fight infections.
These cells circulate around the body via the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and tubes that transports a fluid known as lymph.
When lymphocytes change into lymphoma cells, they multiply and collect in lymph nodes and other tissues. Since healthy lymphocytes fight infections, this cancer impairs a person’s immunity over time. The main subtypes are Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
This type of lymphoma begins when cancerous lymphocytes multiply and crowd out healthy ones. As the cells multiply, they form masses, typically in the lymph nodes.
This usually forms in the lymph nodes and lymphatic tissue in organs, such as the skin or stomach. In some people, it also affects the bone marrow and blood. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma may involve one site or many sites within the body. It has many subtypes.
Myeloma affects plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cell that make antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that help defend the body from infections.
Similarly to leukemia, myeloma also begins in the bone marrow. The cancerous plasma cells multiply so much that they crowd out healthy bone marrow cells, impairing the body’s ability to make all kinds of blood cells.
The main subtypes are multiple myeloma and plasmacytoma. Multiple myeloma is the most common, and affects multiple sites in the body.
Plasmacytoma often occurs in the bones, muscles, skin, or lungs. Doctors refer to a single tumor as solitary plasmacytoma. They call tumors that occur outside of the bones extramedullary plasmacytoma.
Some rarer types of blood cancer include:
- Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia: This is a slow growing cancer that usually affects older adults. It occurs mainly in the bone marrow, but it may also involve the spleen and lymph nodes.
- Polycythemia vera: This causes an increase in red blood cells, but it may also produce an excess in white blood cells and platelets as well.
- Langerhans cell histiocytosis: This causes an increase in a type of white blood cells known as Langerhans cells, or histocytes. It mainly affects children, but it can potentially affect adults of any age.
- Essential thrombocythemia: This cancer causes the bone marrow to make too many platelets, which are the type of blood cells that cause blood to clot. As a result, it can cause bleeding or clotting problems.
There are also several rare subtypes of lymphoma, such as:
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma: This is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects T cells in the skin. T cells are a type of white blood cell.
- Follicular lymphoma: This is a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that can lead to the enlargement of certain lymph node regions. It may also involve other lymphatic tissue, such as the bone marrow or spleen, and spread to other organs.
- Burkitt lymphoma: This is a very fast growing subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lymphoma cells accumulate in the lymph nodes and other organs. It can involve the brain and spinal cord, especially in advanced cases.
The three main types of blood cancer are leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Leukemia starts in the bone marrow and
Since all three types affect cells that fight infections, these blood cancers can impair immunity. There are also cancers that affect other types of blood cells, such as red blood cells and platelets.