September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Meals to Heal recognizes all of those who are currently battling blood cancers and those who have been through the battle. We admire your strength and believe in your cause.
Facts and figures from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society suggest that an estimated 1,012,533 people in the United States are living with or are in remission from leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma combined. Strikingly, approximately every 4 minutes someone in the US is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer.
Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are cancers that develop in the blood cells, bone marrow, lymph nodes and other areas of the lymphatic system. Numerous classifications and subtypes exist within each diagnosis. In general, cancer cells multiply and accumulate in the bone marrow or lymph tissue, making it difficult for healthy cells to function and survive. The production and accumulation of these cancerous cells impede the body’s ability to fight infection and cause extreme anemia and bleeding risks.
The actual causes of blood cancers are mostly unknown. Certain factors may contribute to an increased risk for developing the diseases such as:
- Previous treatment with certain chemotherapies or radiation
- Survivors of atomic bomb explosions
- Chronic exposure to the chemical benzene, which is found in industrial workplaces, cigarette smoke, gasoline and automobile exhaust
- Down syndrome and certain genetic diseases
- Exposure to viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus and HTLV-1
- Being overweight
- Diets high in saturated fats
Highlights of Treatment
Depending on specific diagnosis, treatment for blood cancers can differ immensely. In order to effectively attack cancer cells, treatment modalities may contain a combination of chemotherapy drugs. A few commonly used chemotherapies such as cytarabine (ARA-C), dacarbazine (DTIC), doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) can be included in certain leukemia and lymphoma regimens. These drugs can cause high levels of nausea and vomiting and increased risk for infection. Other side effects patients may experience are decrease in appetite, mouth sores, taste changes, constipation, diarrhea and fatigue. All of these side effects can contribute to weight loss and malnutrition.
Leukemia patients in particular undergo intense chemotherapy regimens, some including radiation, and face a long recovery. They can experience rapid decline in nutritional status not only from treatment but also from the disease itself. A healthy diet consisting of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can help patients to better tolerate side effects, maintain weight and support their immune system.
1. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Facts 2012. http://www.lls.org/content/nationalcontent/resourcecenter/freeeducationmaterials/generalcancer/pdf/facts.pdf2. 2. American Institute for Cancer Research http://www.aicr.org