Blood cancers

Blood cancers

The blood is made up of different types of blood cells. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow – a spongy material in the middle of our bones.

There are three main types of blood cells:

  • red blood cells – carry oxygen
  • white blood cells – fight and prevent infection
  • platelets – help the blood to clot.

Blood cancers develop when blood cells aren’t made properly.

In most blood cancers, the normal cell production is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. This can reduce the bone marrow’s ability to produce normal levels of other blood cells, which affects the way that the rest of the body works. Meanwhile, the abnormal cells spill out into the bloodstream.

As the abnormal blood cells build up in the blood, they can spread to the lymph glands (lymph nodes), spleen, liver, lungs and kidneys. Without treatment, many of the body’s key functions will be increasingly affected.

The three main groups of blood cancer are:

Leukaemia – Cancer that originates in blood-forming tissue. It is named according to the type of white blood cell that is affected and whether it is fast growing (acute) or slow growing (chronic).

There are four types:

Lymphoma – Cancer that develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection.

There are two main types:

Myeloma – Cancer that begins in the blood’s plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that is made in the bone marrow.

This information was last reviewed in March 2017
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Cancer Council Online Community
A community forum – a safe place to share stories, get tips and connect with people who understand

Cancer information

Learn more about chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads