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There are more than 100 different types of blood cancer, some more common than others. Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma get a majority of the media attention, but when all blood cancers are viewed collectively, they make up nearly 7% of all cancers.

Dr. Brandon Blue, a medical oncologist in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Malignant Hematology, says there are ways that doctors can identify specific blood cancers and ensure patients get the treatment necessary to remain healthy as long as possible.

We have technology that can look at the marker on the cell and determine what type of cancer it is.
Dr. Brandon Blue, Malignant Hematologist

“Each cancer type has a specific marker on the cancer cell,” Blue said. “We have technology that can look at the marker on the cell and determine what type of cancer it is.”

Identifying the type of cancer is key to which treatment is prescribed, and those treatments are continuously evolving. Blue says advances have been made particularly in the past five years.

“For lymphoma, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR T) is really a game changer and allows for great treatment for patients who would otherwise have no other option,” Blue said. “This CAR T-cell therapy was recently approved for multiple myeloma and is already showing great promise.”

Other blood cancers are seeing evolution in treatment, as well, and survivorship numbers are climbing. Unfortunately, not every blood cancer has a huge success rate. Leukemia relapse occurs when that blood cancer returns to a patient’s system. For those patients, doctors often try a different treatment regimen or recommend clinical trials.

“Typically, when leukemia comes back, we try to use a different set of chemotherapy medications that are different than the ones we gave originally,” Blue said. “Sometimes it just takes hitting the cancer from a different angle for it to go away and stay away. For some blood cancers we even have to give maintenance chemotherapy to help prevent the disease relapse.”

Many patients don’t know much about specific blood cancers, and Blue encourages all his patients to research their diagnosis so they better understand their treatment.

“Leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma aren’t as common as breast, colon, lung or prostate cancers, so they don’t typically get discussed on television and in the media as much,” Blue said. “Education is always the first step and that is always my advice to my patients.”