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Hematological malignancies

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Hematological malignancies

Hematological malignancy/blood cancer
Classification and external resources
10 9 ICD-O: 9590-9999
MeSH D019337

Hematological malignancies (British spelling "Haematological" malignancies) are the types of cancer that affect blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. As the three are intimately connected through the immune system, a disease affecting one of the three will often affect the others as well: although lymphoma is a disease of the lymph nodes, it often spreads to the bone marrow, affecting the blood and occasionally producing a paraprotein.

While uncommon in solid tumors, chromosomal translocations are a common cause of these diseases. This commonly leads to a different approach in diagnosis and treatment of hematological malignancies.

Hematological malignancies are malignant neoplasms ("cancer"), and they are generally treated by specialists in hematology and/or oncology. In some centers "Hematology/oncology" is a single subspecialty of internal medicine while in others they are considered separate divisions (there are also surgical and radiation oncologists). Not all hematological disorders are malignant ("cancerous"); these other blood conditions may also be managed by a hematologist.

Hematological malignancies may derive from either of the two major blood cell lineages: myeloid and lymphoid cell lines. The myeloid cell line normally produces granulocytes, erythrocytes, thrombocytes, macrophages and mast cells; the lymphoid cell line produces B, T, NK and plasma cells. Lymphomas, lymphocytic leukemias, and myeloma are from the lymphoid line, while acute and chronic myelogenous leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative diseases are myeloid in origin.

Classification and incidence

Taken together, hematological malignancies account for 9.5% of new cancer diagnoses in the United States[1] and 30,000 patients in the UK are diagnosed each year.[2] Within this category, lymphomas are more common than leukemias.

Historically, hematological malignancies have been most commonly divided by whether the malignancy is mainly located in the blood (leukemia) or in lymph nodes (lymphomas).

However, the influential WHO Classification (published in 2001) emphasized a greater emphasis on cell lineage.

Classic classification

Relative proportions of hematological malignancies in the United States[3]

Type of hematological malignancy Percentage Total
Leukemias 30.4%
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) 4.0%
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) 8.7%
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
sorted under lymphomas according to current WHO classification; called small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) when leukemic cells are absent.
Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
Acute monocytic leukemia (AMoL) 0.7%
Other leukemias 3.1%
Lymphomas 55.6%
Hodgkin's lymphomas (all four subtypes) 7.0%
Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (all subtypes)


For the analysis of a suspected hematological malignancy, a complete blood count and blood film are essential, as malignant cells can show in characteristic ways on light microscopy. When there is lymphadenopathy, a biopsy from a lymph node is generally undertaken surgically. In general, a bone marrow biopsy is part of the "work up" for the analysis of these diseases. All specimens are examined microscopically to determine the nature of the malignancy. A number of these diseases can now be classified by cytogenetics (AML, CML) or immunophenotyping (lymphoma, myeloma, CLL) of the malignant cells.


Treatment can occasionally consist of "watchful waiting" (e.g. in CLL) or symptomatic treatment (e.g. blood transfusions in MDS). The more aggressive forms of disease require treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and - in some cases - a bone marrow transplant. The use of rituximab has been established for the treatment of B-cell–derived hematologic malignancies, including follicular lymphoma (FL) and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) [4]


If treatment has been successful ("complete" or "partial remission"), a patient is generally followed up at regular intervals to detect recurrence and monitor for "secondary malignancy" (an uncommon side-effect of some chemotherapy and radiotherapy regimens - the appearance of another form of cancer). In the follow-up, which should be done at pre-determined regular intervals, general anamnesis is combined with complete blood count and determination of lactate dehydrogenase or thymidine kinase in serum.


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