Blood Cancers

Adult Blood cancers: Lymphoma, Leukemia and Myeloma

Every three minutes in the U.S. an adult or child is diagnosed with a blood cancer. New cases account for nearly 10% of all cancer diagnoses. St. Vincent's comprehensive Hematology (blood) Cancer Care team includes dedicated board-certified hematologists/medical oncologists, oncology certified or trained nurses, as well as, oncology certified pharmacists and patient navigators. An extended Cancer Care Survivorship Team provides lifelong support. At St. Vincent Cancer Care we surround our patients with compassionate, caring and highly experience blood cancer care specialists and associates.

Blood cancers commonly include leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma; however, there are other many subtypes. The St. Vincent hematologists / medical oncologists have extensive experience treating all types of adult blood cancers. In contrast, the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent has a dedicated center for children and young adults up to age 25 diagnosed with blood cancers.

Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL)

PET Scan

A PET scan is used to detect lymphoma in the lymph nodes. CT scans are also used to show swelling in the lymph nodes.

This type of cancer affects the lymphatic system which is part of the immune systems. This means it may be harder to fight infections if you have lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma refers to tumors that develop from abnormal white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the lymphatic system. The cells continue to divide and grow uncontrollably either fast or slow but none-the-less can spread throughout the body. Lymph tissue is found all through the body, so lymphoma can begin almost anywhere.

There are many different types of NHL that form from different types of white blood cells (referred to as B-cells, T-cells, NK cells). Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma represents approximately 4% of all new cancers in the United States and this type of blood cancer is seven times more common than the other type of lymphoma — Hodgkin's disease. Both types of lymphomas behave and respond to treatment differently. The St. Vincent hematologists / medical oncologists treat not only lymphoma but the and secondary cancers (the metastatic cancer ) that spread to the lymph nodes and tissue. Our certified St. Vincent oncology-trained pathologists can tell the difference between lymphomas and other types of metastatic disease in the lymph nodes by analyzing the cancer cells under a microscope. Advanced imaging tests such as a body PET scan and CT scan are also used to detect lymphoma.

Lymph System

The lymph system has vessels and organs including lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen and bone marrow. All can be sites for lymphoma. Hodgkins Lymphoma patients are at higher risk for developing a metastatic (or secondary type of) cancer which commonly affects the stomach, breast or lungs. Source:

Hodgkin's Lymphoma

As a cancer of the immune system, Hodgkin's Lymphoma is more common in adolescents and young adults than in older adults. Our medical oncologists utilize different types of chemotherapy and targeted radiotherapy to improve overall long-term survival.


When abnormal blood cells in the bone marrow crowd out normal blood-making cells, the imbalance may cause symptoms such as excessive fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, bruising and repetitive nose bleeds. However, leukemia can also cause non-specific symptoms like weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue and fever. Leukemia cells may build up in the liver, spleen, lymph nodes and even on the surface of the bone causing swelling in the abdomen, a lump on the neck or in the armpits or bone pain. Physicians have blood tests that can test for leukemia.

Acute (A) versus Chronic (C) Leukemia

  • Lymphocytic leukemia (ALL or CLL): Hereditary disorders such as Down syndrome increases the risk of developing ALL
  • Myeloid leukemia (AML or CML)

St. Vincent hematologists take special care in diagnosing blood cancers. For example, St. Vincent medical oncologists look closely at the type of bone marrow cells to see if they are immature cells that cannot grow properly or cells that look mature but do not fight infection as normal white blood cells do. They identify the stage of the leukemia and develop a personalized treatment plan for you.

Myeloma and MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome)

Myeloma begins in the bone marrow and affects the plasma cells. These cells are changed (or mutated) and crowd out the healthy cells. There are several forms of myeloma and St. Vincent hematologists are highly experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of myeloma.

MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome) is a group of diseases of the blood and essentially a genetic mutation occurs in the stem cells in the bone marrow. The number of healthy blood cells (red, white and platelets) is usually lower than normal. The change to the normal cells leads to cells that do not behave normally and these cells crowd out healthy cells. A known MDS risk factor is repeated exposure to benzene which is found in cigarette smoke and certain industrial environments. Benzene damages the DNA of stem cells. In rare cases chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment for leukemia, lymphoma and breast cancers has caused DNA stem cell mutations that leads to MDS.

The St. Vincent Health Information Library (an online resource) defines the different types and subtypes of blood cancer. St. Vincent Patient Navigators are available to help you throughout this journey. Keeping a journal of symptoms and questions is a good start. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society offers this printable list of commonly asked questions for patients and caregivers. This website also has patient education webcasts on all types of blood cancers.

St. Vincent Hematologist Rueme E. Birthiray, MD, chairs the annual Indy Hematology Review symposium for physicians and nurses addressing emerging therapies for all types of blood cancers. St. Vincent has maintained this leadership role for more than a decade and brings together thought leaders in the field of blood cancer to advance the overall quality of care for our patients.

St. Vincent Hospital and its hematology malignancy treatment program are certified by the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy.