Overview of Blood Cell Cancers

Cancer develops when any type of cell in the body transforms into a cancer cell by changing in harmful ways and invading normal tissue. Blood cancer is a little different from cancer that begins in the organs of the body (like lung cancer), because the cancer cells don't form tumors—they travel throughout the blood, lymphatic vessel, or accumulate on the lymph nodes.

Blood contains three kinds of cells: red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets. WBCs are the most likely to become cancerous.

Leukemia under a microscope
Ed Reschke / Getty Images

White Blood Cell Cancers

Diseases that occur when blood cells are produced in excess are called myeloproliferative disorders. Some myeloproliferative disorders, especially those that involve WBCs, are blood cell cancers.

All WBCs are considered leukocytes, and they are the cornerstone of the body's immune system. There are several types of leukocytes, including lymphocytes, plasma cells, granulocytes, and more. Blood cell cancers usually involve one or more of these types.

With blood cell cancers, there's an overproduction of cancer cells, which often interferes with the production of other WBCs, and possibly RBCs and platelets too. And the cancer cells are abnormal, which makes them ineffective as immune cells.

Common symptoms of blood cell cancers include fatigue, frequent and severe infections, fevers, weight loss, and swelling.

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a plasma cell cancer. Plasma cells are a type of B-cell lymphocyte. This cancer is most often diagnosed in people older than age 65. In the United States, the risk of multiple myeloma is highest among African-Americans and lowest among Asian-Americans.

Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia

In Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, white blood cells called B lymphocytes multiply out of control, invading the bone marrow, liver, and spleen. People older than age 50 have the highest risk for this type of cancer. It is estimated that about 1,000 to 1,500 people are diagnosed in the United States each year with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia.


Leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells. The white blood cells divide and multiply out of control, forming cancerous blast cells. Leukemia can progress quickly (acute leukemia) or slowly (chronic leukemia).

Leukemia can be subtyped by the type of white blood cell that becomes cancerous, and each type has a specific treatment and prognosis.


Lymphocytes are a type of WBC, and they can grow abnormally due to a type of cancer called lymphoma. There are different types of lymphoma.

Specialized Medical Treatment

Blood cell cancers require specialized medical treatment depending on the type of cancer, how advanced it is, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. A hematologist is a doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of blood cell cancers. A primary care doctor would refer you to this type of specialist to confirm or establish a diagnosis and develop the best course of treatment for you or a loved one.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Kaweme NM, Changwe GJ, Zhou F. Approaches and challenges in the management of multiple myeloma in the very old: future treatment prospects. Front Med. 2021;8:612696. doi.10.3389/fmed.2021.612696

  3. Marinac, C.R., Ghobrial, I.M., Birmann, B.M. et al. Dissecting racial disparities in multiple myeloma. Blood Cancer J. 10, 19 (2020). doi.10.1038/s41408-020-0284-7

  4. American Cancer Society. Risk Factors for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia.

  5. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics About Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia.

  6. American Cancer Society. Tests for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

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  8. Yale Medicine. Blood Cancers

By Mary Kugler, RN
Mary Kugler, RN, is a pediatric nurse whose specialty is caring for children with long-term or severe medical problems.