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Exploring the Enigma of Bone Marrow Cancer

Unmasking the mysteries of bone marrow cancer, embark on a captivating odyssey through the realm of stem cells gone awry

Dr. Rayaz Ahmed

Nestled deep within our skeletal framework lies a hidden realm of extraordinary significance: the bone marrow. Revered as the epicenter of life-sustaining elements, this soft, spongy core harbors a vital secret. It is within this sanctum that a collection of remarkable stem cells reside, orchestrating the creation of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets essential for our existence. Exploring the Enigma of Bone Marrow Cancer

However, amidst the intricate dance of cellular genesis, a sinister twist can emerge. When these once-harmonious stem cells undergo abnormal growth or adopt an accelerated pace, a menacing specter looms—bone marrow cancer. Within the marrow’s delicate tapestry, a diverse range of cancers can emerge, casting a shadow over the body’s very essence. Leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and other formidable adversaries may arise, testing the resilience of the human spirit.

In this quest to comprehend the enigma of bone marrow cancer, we delve into the depths of this affliction, seeking to unravel its complexities and shed light on its impact. Join us as we embark on an exploration of this captivating terrain, where science, hope, and the indomitable human spirit intertwine.


Bone marrow cancer is of the following types based on the cells affected:

1.    Leukaemia

Leukaemia is the type of cancer in which uncontrolled proliferation of WBCs occurs. These WBCs may be immature or mature and interfere with the body’s regular functioning. The body’s defence mechanism gets disrupted, increasing susceptibility to infections. Leukaemia is further divided into:

Acute Leukaemia:

In acute leukaemia, immature WBCs, called blasts, proliferate rapidly.(more than or equal to 20% in blood or Bone marrow)

Chronic Leukaemia:

In chronic leukaemia cases, more mature cells rapidly multiply.

2.    Multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is the type of cancer that affects plasma cells. Normal Plasma cells are responsible for making antibodies.

3.    Lymphoma

Lymphoma is the type of cancer in which lymphocytes rapidly multiply, forming tumours that compromise the body’s immune system. Lymphoma is of two types:

1.    Hodgkin’s lymphoma – affecting B lymphocytes

2.    Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – involving B or T lymphocytes


Symptoms develop depending on the type of cancer, its location, severity, and how aggressive its progression is.


Leukaemia is a cancer of the WBCs. Symptoms that patients with leukaemia would present are:

●      Bone pain

●      Swollen lymph nodes

●      Unexplained weight loss of more than 10% body weight in a short period without specifically trying

●      Petechiae on the skin (pinpoint red dots)

●      Weakness and fatigue

●      Frequent infections since the body’s defence mechanisms are affected

●      Fever and chills

●      Liver and spleen enlargement

●      Bruising easily

●      Night sweats

Multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a common type of bone marrow cancer. Some of the symptoms are:

●      Weakness and fatigue

●      Increased susceptibility to infections

●      Increased frequency of urination

●      Confusion, increased thirst

●      Pain in the bone and increased risk of fracture

●      Unexplained weight loss of more than 10% body weight in a short period without specifically trying

●      Nausea and vomiting

●      Backache, Bony pain

●      Fracture(Pathological fractures)

●      Renal failure


Lymphoma presents with the following symptoms:

●      A persistent cough that doesn’t subside

●      lymph nodes enlargement in neck,axillary, groin

●      Itchy skin, the appearance of rashes or skin lumps

●      Fever, weight loss, night sweats

●      Loss of appetite

●      Pain in the abdomen

●      An enlarged spleen gives rise to a feeling of bloated all the time.


Causes of bone marrow cancer or non-specific. However, some contributing factors may be:

●      Immunocompromised individuals (post-transplant or those taking immunosuppressant drugs, HIV patients)

●      Exposure to harmful radiation, chemicals, fumes, pesticides

●      Genetic predisposition

●      Smoking and drinking

●      Obesity


The doctor first assesses the medical history familial history and performs a physical examination. Following tests are advised to diagnose bone marrow cancer:

●      Blood and urine tests: These are done to assess kidney function, electrolyte levels, and blood cell count. A CBC (complete blood count), tumour markers, and a complete metabolic profile may help diagnose bone marrow cancer.

●      A biopsy of the bone marrow may help check for the presence of cancer cells.

●      Specific scans such as x-rays, PET scans, CT scans, and MRI may help detect changes in the bone structure.

The confirmatory test for bone marrow aspiration & biopsy since it provides information about the specific type of cancer. Imaging techniques help assess how much the disease has progressed. In case of suspected lymphoma, lymph node  biopsy is mandatory


The treatment of bone marrow cancer depends on multiple factors such as age, the extent of spread of cancer and the overall health of the affected individual. Considering the above factors, the doctor may advise the following treatment options:

●      Chemotherapy: Specific drugs are injected into the body to find and destroy cancer cells.

●      Radiation therapy: This treatment aims to reduce the size of tumour cells, lower pain, and kill cancer cells by delivering high-energy beams to a targeted organ.

●      Transplant: The cancerous bone marrow can be transplanted with a healthy one. This procedure is also known as stem cell transplant. It is combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to prevent the risk of cancer relapse in the new and healthy bone marrow.

●      Targeted drug therapy (Immunotherapy): These drugs specifically target cancer cells, unlike chemotherapy.

●      Biological therapy: Immune system of the affected individual can help destroy cancer cells.(CART-T cell therapy)


If cancer is untreated, it can prove fatal owing to reduced immunity, weakness and increased susceptibility to infections.

Risk Factors

Risk factors contributing to bone marrow cancer are non-specific, and the factors given below may have a role to play:

●      Compromised immune system

●      Excessive exposure to harmful radiation, chemicals, fumes, pesticides

●      Familial history of cancer

●      Smoking and drinking

●      Obesity


The prognosis of patients having bone marrow cancer is highly individual specific. It depends on how an individual responds to therapy and has a lot to do with their willpower, mental health, the extent of spread of cancer and underlying conditions.

Adult Acute Leukaemia are curable in 40-70% cases (childhood acute leukaemia – 80-90%)

-Lymphoma are curable 50-60% cases

-Low grade lymphoma, life can be prolonged from 10-20 yrs

– Multiple Myeloma life can be prolonged 5-8 yrs

Author is Director, Department of Haematology and BMT, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi 

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