Cancer Types | Blood Cancer - National Foundation for Cancer Research

Blood Cancers

Blood Cancers

There are three main types of blood cancers. Leukemia is a cancer found in your blood and bone marrow, lymphoma is a blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system and myeloma is a blood cancer that specifically targets plasma cells. Each year, these types of cancer account for approximately 10% of all new cancer diagnoses.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 186,400 new cases of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021, with 57,750 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
  • Every three minutes, one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer.
  • Leukemias are the most common cancers in children and account for 28% of all childhood cancers.
  • More than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are either living with or in remission today from a blood cancer.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Signs and Symptoms

A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.


  • Feeling tired, weak, dizzy or lightheaded
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Bruises (or small red or purple spots) on the skin
  • Bleeding, such as frequent or severe nosebleeds, bleeding gums, or heavy menstrual bleeding in women
  • Swelling in the face, neck, arms, and upper chest (sometimes with a bluish-red color)
  • Weight loss; Loss of appetite
  • Fever; Night sweats
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Infections that don’t go away or keep coming back


  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Fever without an infection
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Severe or frequent infections
  • Swollen abdomen (belly)
  • Feeling full after only a small meal
  • Easy bruising or bleeding


  • Persistent or worsening tiredness
  • Recurrent unexplained infections (such as pneumonia, sinus infection, or urinary tract infection)
  • Back pain or any bone pain that is persistent or recurrent
  • Swelling of the extremities
  • Shortness of breath
Source: American Cancer Society’s website and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website 2021
Blood Cancers Awareness Ribbon
estimated new cases in 2021
expected deaths in 2021
% of all childhood cancers

Blood Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack blood cancers – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

Curt Civin, M.D.
Curt Civin, M.D.

Leukemia is a great success story for cancer research — one in which NFCR-affiliated scientist Dr. Curt Civin played an important role. His early work on bone marrow stem cell transplantation was partially responsible for the dramatic increase of the five-year survival for all types of leukemia over the past 20 years.

And now, for patients still suffering from cancer and waiting for a cure, Dr. Civin’s current research may once again hold the key. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the deadliest form of leukemia. Dr. Civin discovered that artemisinins – a class of drugs with low toxicity used to successfully treat malaria – are also effective in killing AML cancer cells. Through research, he identified ART-838, a specific artemisinin compound, that shows remarkable effectiveness against leukemia cells and works well in combination with established anti-leukemia drugs. Further, it doesn’t appear to harm normal bone marrow cells. With support from NFCR’s AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, next generation drug modeling software is creating the best chemical structure of ART-838 for optimal treatment outcomes for AML patients.

Michael B. Sporn, M.D.
Michael B. Sporn, M.D.

Previously supported NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Michael Sporn, conducted research on fenretinide, a drug with similar structure to Vitamin A. He proved its safety for use in humans. It subsequently was shown to be both safe and efficacious in treating several cancers. With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, a unique delivery system and fenretinide have gained approval to treat T cell-non Hodgkin lymphoma patients who have relapsed or stopped responding to their current therapy. Enrollment in the Phase 1 trial is planned for 2021.

Cesare Spadoni, Ph.D.
Cesare Spadoni, Ph.D.

Dr. Cesare Spadoni is leading a team to develop treatments for the most common pediatric cancers with the poorest prognosis including Acute Myeloid Leukemia. In the oncology community, there is a void of cancer drugs specifically developed to treat children. His team identifies and characterizes new oncogenic pathways and the pathway interconnections may facilitate development of novel pediatric cancer drugs, ensuring more effective and less toxic cancer treatments. With this information, the scientists aim to repurpose known drugs and identify new combinations of drugs for pediatric cancers. They hope this research and drug discovery philosophy will bring a new treatment for AML in children.

Dr. Spadoni’s team, with support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, is first focusing their treatment development efforts on the difficult-to-treat cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma. A clinical trial is being planned in 2021.

Wei Zhang, Ph.D.
Wei Zhang, Ph.D.

With NFCR support since 2006, Dr. Wei Zhang, a leader in precision oncology, characterizes underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for cancer growth and progression. His research addresses the variability in cellular properties, within and across cancer types, which often leads to treatment resistance and poor survival in patients. Dr. Zhang’s precision oncology approach has the potential to improve outcomes for T cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Acute Myeloid leukemia (AML) patients that have stopped responding to standard treatments.

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Multiple Myeloma: A Rare But Very Real Cancer

On May 23, 2018, my mother, Susan Williams, was admitted to UNC Rex Hospital in our home town of Raleigh, North Carolina, after being told that some “abnormalities” had shown up in her blood test. Several months earlier, my mom experienced excruciating pain around her rib cage and back that caused her to eventually become immobile. She met with multiple specialists to get opinions on what might be wrong. She was told it was probably a pulled muscle, maybe potential nerve damage, even osteoporosis. That is when we finally found out she had several fractures in her ribs, pelvis, and multiple crushed vertebrae. This explained the pain she endured. However, It wasn’t until that day in May when we finally got the answer we had been waiting for. The dreadful diagnosis that would change our family and, more greatly, my mom’s life forever. Multiple Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells which are white blood cells that help fight infection and are made in the bone marrow. The more of these cells that have myeloma, the more severe the symptoms are for patients; such as weak bones and a higher risk of infection— which often is what will lead to their demise. There is currently no cure for Multiple Myeloma. There are standard treatment options available to help manage the progression. A common treatment is a Stem Cell Transplant or Bone Marrow Transplant, where patients are dosed with intense chemotherapy that will hopefully kill the myeloma cells and replace enough of them with healthy cells. The majority of Myeloma patients will only need to have this transplant once. My mother was an exception. She had to go through it twice. After transplant, patients will often try different maintenance chemotherapies until one keeps their myeloma cell counts low and manageable. Multiple Myeloma never reaches remission because the disease is always in the blood and most likely will come back. Again, there is no cure. Learn more about Multiple Myeloma on NFCR’s blog here. Spreading awareness about this disease is crucial because it is difficult to diagnose correctly let alone detect early. It is also hard to track how well patients will respond to treatments and if treatment will even work at all, which is a discouraging fate my mom has been faced with. There are still a lot of unknowns about this cancer and we need to support research to be able to answer those questions. Every day we constantly prepare for the worst. Our hope is that my mom will be able to see the day when advancements in cancer research will save her life. March is Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month and I truly believe that awareness may help bring a cure someday.  It’s heartbreaking seeing someone you love suffer every day. We are faced with overwhelming feelings of helplessness when we can’t take their pain away. I wanted to do something more to help my mom which is what motivated me to volunteer my time to help the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) and their mission – Research for a Cure. Everyone has something to give to […]