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Blood Cancers: The Importance of Receiving an Accurate Diagnosis for Plasma Cell (Multiple) Myeloma, Lymphoma, and Leukemia

  • Getting the details of any cancer diagnosis exactly right is always important. But, when it comes to hematologic malignancies or cancers of the blood (such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma), this precision is even more crucial. There are various subtypes of these blood cancers that are eligible for and respond best to different treatments.

    Because of this, knowing all of the details of a blood cancer diagnosis is crucial for giving each patient the best chance for a positive outcome.

    Diagnosing Blood Cancers

    In many cases, getting diagnosed with a blood cancer involves a series of blood, tissue, and other tests, including:

    • Blood analysis to detect circulating malignant cells
    • Lymph node biopsy, which can detect cancer cells in lymph nodes and establish a diagnosis of lymphoma
    • Bone marrow testing, which may involve harvesting a liquid marrow and/or bone sample
    • Lumbar puncture, which collects cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord
    • Imaging tests, including MRI, CAT, or PET scans

    If blood cancer is suspected, many of these tests might be ordered for diagnosis. This is because multiple factors are involved in determining the best course of treatment for each patient.

    “Sometimes there are two stages of diagnosis,” explained Mariusz A. Wasik, MD, Chair of Pathology at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “First is a general diagnosis of the malignancy, and that is often followed by information on its further categorization and genetic makeup.”

    That deeper categorization calls for more than simply looking at a patient’s blood cells under a microscope.

    “There’s information we get from other tests, including which proteins are being expressed and what genetic changes are present in the cancer cells.” Wasik said.

    Knowing these kinds of diagnostic details allows physicians to determine effective treatments tailored to each patient’s disease.

    “It’s that further classification that allows for targeted therapies,” Wasik said.

    Expertise Matters

    In short, correctly diagnosing a blood cancer requires in-depth analysis and an understanding of the many nuances of blood cancers (as well as an overview of all tests by specialists who focus on these specific types of cancer). That’s why it’s recommended that individuals are seen at a specialized cancer center, where the latest diagnostic and treatment options are available and there are teams of specialized pathologists who have dedicated their careers to the diagnosis of blood cancers.

    These pathologists—known as hematopathologists—are specifically focused on blood cancers and their diagnoses, seeing rare cases frequently that would not be seen at all in certain healthcare settings. At Fox Chase, we have a dedicated team of hematopathologists who work closely with our oncologists to properly diagnose patients and identify the best therapies for their specific disease.

    In addition, Fox Chase is also paving the way for new therapies for blood cancers, using cutting-edge technologies to study specific genetic mutations that occur in some blood cancers.

    “We’ve brought the ability to do these analyses in-house, which allows us to offer the latest treatments to patients throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond,” Wasik said.

    Learn more about Fox Chase’s Hematologic (Blood) Cancer Program