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Everything You Need to Know About Bone Marrow Cancer

This article will delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment of bone marrow cancer.

  • 07 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read

Bone Marrow is one of the most important elements in our bodies, as it plays a vital role in producing blood cells and providing immunity. It also serves as a storehouse for stem cells, which have many potential uses within the medical field. Not only this, but bone marrow can be affected by certain types of cancer known as "bone marrow cancer". There are different forms of this condition, depending on the bone marrow cell type that turns cancerous. This article will delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment of bone marrow cancer.


What is Bone Marrow Cancer?

An abnormal multiplication of any of the cells present in the bone marrow, including precursor blood cells, stem cells, or adult cells is considered a diseased condition termed as bone marrow cancer. Since these cells are the major components that make up the blood, any malignancy arising in these cells can affect other parts of the body. The cancer can spread to other organs when the cancerous blood cells get carried to different locations in the body through blood. Hence, bone marrow cancer is considered a malignant form of cancer. It is also known as blood cancer because the malignancy arising in the soft tissue of the bone eventually affects the blood.


Causes of Bone Marrow Cancer

Mutations in the DNA of the cells are the reason for the development of cancer but the exact cause that leads to this change is unknown in many cases. Hence, the precise bone marrow cancer causes are not fully understood. Researchers have identified certain risk factors linked to bone marrow cancer which includes:

  • Increasing age
  • Radiation exposure
  • Family history of the particular bone marrow cancer type
  • Exposure to carcinogenic chemicals
  • Having other bone marrow-related disorders

Types of Bone Marrow Cancer

There are three main forms of blood cancer depending on the bone marrow cells that have become cancerous. These are:

  1. Multiple myeloma: Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, which is a type of white blood cell. These cells are involved in the production of antibodies that are targeted against antigens. But in multiple myeloma, the malignant plasma cells generate abnormal proteins that cause health complications. The cancerous cells aggregate in the bone marrow, outnumbering the healthy blood cells.
  2. Leukemia: Leukemia is a general term to denote the cancer of blood-forming cells. It usually involves the abnormal multiplication of white blood cells. There are mainly two forms of leukemia: lymphocytic leukemia affecting the lymphocytes, and myelogenous leukemia involving myeloid cells.
  3. Lymphoma: Cancers that begin in the lymphatic system are categorised under the broad term lymphoma. It arises when the cells of the immune system that are dedicated to fighting off infections, called lymphocytes, grow out of control. This cancer can develop in any part of the lymphatic system, like the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland, and bone marrow. It can also metastasize to the liver or kidney. There are two main classifications of lymphoma: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Symptoms of Bone Marrow Cancer

The signs and symptoms of bone marrow cancer vary depending on the type and stage of the cancer. The common indications of multiple myeloma may include:

  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Having a high rate of infections due to a shortage of disease-fighting white blood cells
  • Change in the frequency of urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Confusion as a result of high levels of blood calcium
  • Losing body weight for no reason
  • Vomiting

The symptoms of leukemia may manifest as:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever accompanied by chills
  • Night sweats
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Tiny red dots appearing on the skin
  • Easily getting bruises and bleeding
  • Bone pain
  • Frequently occurring infections

Some of the signs and symptoms that indicate the possibility of having lymphoma are:

  • Fever accompanied by chills
  • Low energy levels
  • Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes
  • Swollen underarms, neck, arms, legs, or groin
  • Having night sweats
  • Experiencing nerve pain
  • Having numbness in different body parts
  • Having tingling sensation, pain in the chest or lower back
  • Itchy rashes appearing on the body
  • Feeling of fullness in the stomach.


How is Bone Marrow Cancer Diagnosed?

After carefully analysing the symptoms, the doctor may suggest running certain tests to confirm the diagnosis. This includes a blood test and bone marrow examination. A complete blood cell count is done to evaluate the number of white and red blood cells and platelets. Any abnormal increase in any of these cells may be an indication of blood cancer.

There are two types of bone marrow testing for cancer, which are aspiration and biopsy. In bone marrow aspiration, a small sample of the bone marrow’s liquid part is taken using a needle. This is then examined to check the number of red and white blood cells and platelets. Bone marrow biopsy procedure involves removing a tissue sample from the bone marrow and examining it under the microscope to investigate if the cells are cancerous.

Also read:

How is Bone Marrow Cancer Treated?

The treatment method adopted for bone marrow cancer varies for each person. It depends upon the type of cancer, stage, the extent of cancerous growth, the patient’s age, and overall health. The common approaches to the treatment of bone marrow cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy: In chemotherapy, drugs that can either destroy or arrest the growth of cancer cells are administered to the patient through an intravenous drip or orally.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiotherapy employs beams of intense energy ionising radiations, like X-rays or proton radiation to kill the cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Cancer immunotherapy uses substances produced by the body or synthetic ones to enhance the immune system of the patient. This will help the body to identify and destroy the cancer cells. Immunotherapy is used alone or in combination with chemotherapy or other treatment methods.
  • Targeted therapy: This treatment uses drugs that can precisely identify and bind to specific proteins in the cancer cells that help them in their growth and survival. The chemical substance then destroys the malignant tissue.
  • Stem cell transplant: Stem cell transplant involves the replacement of bone marrow cells destroyed by cancer or cancer treatment with healthy bone marrow stem cells from a donor.


An Outlook Towards Bone Marrow Cancer

The prognosis of bone marrow cancer varies significantly among individuals. It depends on various factors like the type of bone marrow cancer, stage, whether the cancer cells have spread to other body parts, age of the patient, response to treatment, etc. If a patient receives an early diagnosis before the spread of the malignant cells, then they are more likely to respond effectively to the therapies. The cancer cells in such cases can be destroyed and the remission chances remain low. But certain types of bone marrow cancer are so aggressive that treatment may not be effective. The therapies may continue for a longer time with an increased risk of complications occurring.

The general outlook for multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is non-curable but can be managed with treatments. The following table provides information about the survival rate of multiple myeloma patients.

Stage of multiple myeloma

5-year survival rates

Local stage


Metastasized stage


The general outlook for leukemia

Some leukemia types are curable with treatment. The life expectancy of patients with leukemia varies based on several factors like the biological features of the cancer, the person’s age, general health, and how well the body responds to treatment.

The 5-year survival rate for individuals aged 20 years or older with acute myeloid leukemia is 28%. For younger people aged less than 20 years, the life expectancy rate is 69%.

The general outlook for lymphoma

Although the recovery depends upon the type and stage of the bone marrow cancer, both types of lymphoma; Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s are considered very treatable. The five-year survival rates for Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are given below.

Stages of Hodgkin’s lymphoma

5-year survival rate

Stage 1


Stage 2


Stage 3


Stage 4


Unknown stage



Stages of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

5- year survival rate

Stage 1


Stage 2


Stage 3


Stage 4


Unknown stage




If you’ve ever wondered what is bone marrow cancer and its treatment options, we hope this article has given you an insight into this. Cancer treatments are often expensive but it can be eased with cancer health insurance. Cancer insurance provides financial and healthcare protection against hospitalization, therapies, and other non-medical expenditures. Purchasing a cancer insurance policy in the wake of the increasing number of cancer incidence worldwide has become extremely important. This will help a person cope with financial needs during the treatment period.

This blog offers comprehensive information and discussions on various health and related topics. The information and all other materials presented on this blog, website, or any linked resources are not meant to serve as a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is strongly recommended that you consult your healthcare provider before initiating any new medication or health regimen.

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