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What is blood cancer?

Your blood is made up of different cell types including red blood cells for carrying oxygen, platelets to help blood clot and white blood cells that fight infections. They all originally come from stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any type of blood cell as they divide and mature. Problems in this process, known as ‘differentiation’, are at the root of all blood cancers. Different types of blood cancer depend on when and how these problems occur.

These problems often lead to your body producing large numbers of immature blood cells that can’t perform their job properly. They can also ‘clog up’ your bone marrow, which prevents other types of blood cells from doing their job too.

Unfortunately, blood cancer affects a large number of people. Every 13 minutes, someone in the UK is told they have a blood cancer. That’s around 110 people per day, 40,000 people per year. So you are certainly not alone.

Blood cancers are categorised into three groups. We have gathered information on some of the more common examples of each group so you can learn more about your circumstance. We also link to organisations that offer additional advice and support. 

Blood Cancer Types

The what are my treatment options? section looks at other possible ways that your medical team might decide to treat your cancer - either before or instead of a stem cell transplant.

Anthony Nolan also supports the IMPACT partnership that co-ordinates clinical trials across the UK that focus on improving stem cell transplantation. See the IMPACT website for more details.

Additional advice and support for you and your family is available from Cancer Research UK, Macmillan, Blood Cancer UK, Leukaemia Care and Lymphoma Action. Children and teenagers are also supported by CLIC Sargent, the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) and the Teenage Cancer Trust

Leukaemia

Leukaemias are cancers that affect your blood cells, mainly your white blood cells and bone marrow. These cells often divide too quickly and don’t develop properly, which compromises your immune system and ability to fight infections.

Many types of leukaemia are either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ based on how they behave. In general, acute conditions develop very quickly and need treating aggressively straight away. Chronic conditions usually progress more slowly and intensive treatment may not be needed straight away.

There are four main types of leukaemia:

Other types of leukaemia include:

  • acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL)
  • hairy cell leukaemia (HCL)
  • large granular lymphocytic leukaemia (LGL)
  • t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL)
  • chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML)

If you would like more information on less common types of leukaemia or myeloproliferative neoplasms that are related to leukaemia, you can visit Leukaemia CareBlood Cancer UK or Cancer Research UK.

Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects your lymphatic system, an important part of your immune system that produces and transports white blood cells around your body. It also removes waste products from your blood.

Lymphoma can develop in many parts of your body, including your lymph nodes, bone marrow, blood, spleen and other organs.

There are two main types of lymphoma, based on how they behave and their treatment:

More detailed information about less common types of lymphoma can be found on the Lymphoma Action website.

Myeloma

Myeloma (also referred to as multiple myeloma) is a blood cancer that affects a certain type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. These cells are made in your bone marrow and produce antibodies which help fight infection.

Our Myeloma page has more information.

Information published: 08/02/21
Next review due: 08/02/24    

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell or bone marrow transplant

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