Blood Cancer | Cancer


Blood Cancer

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center offers the newer cancer therapies that aren’t available at other hospitals. Our leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma programs are the largest of their kind in the region.

Medically reviewed by Theodore Wun, M.D. on June 20, 2023.

Male physician with his hand on male patient’s shoulder while looking at computer.

Personalized Care for Blood Cancers

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, we provide the latest diagnostic techniques, precision treatments and access to clinical trials of cutting-edge therapies. We have a specialized team entirely devoted to blood cancers.


Types of Blood Cancer

Blood cancers, or hematologic cancers, happen when your body can’t make certain blood cells properly.

The main types of blood cancer are: 

  • Leukemia occurs when your bone marrow white blood cells do not properly develop. There are several types of leukemia.
  • Lymphomas affect lymphocytes, which normally help fight infections. The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin.
  • Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. Plasma cells normally make antibodies to fight infection.

Blood Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of blood cancer. Some people have only mild symptoms.

Common Symptoms

Blood cancer symptoms may include:

  • Mild bleeding or bruising easily
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Frequent infections and fevers
  • Heavy night sweats
  • Pain in your abdomen, bones or chest
  • Swelling in your abdomen or lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight changes

Emergency Symptoms

Call 911 or get medical attention right away if you experience:

  • Bleeding that will not stop or extensive bruising
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Loss of vision
  • Weakness on one side of the body

Blood Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Changes in the DNA (mutations) of your blood-forming cells cause blood cancer.

There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing blood cancer:


Age risk varies by type of blood cancer. Some blood cancers are more common in children, and others are more common in older adults.

Chemical or Radiation Exposure

Exposure to benzene, chemotherapy drugs and pesticides raise your risk of some blood cancers. Radiation exposure may also raise your risk.

Certain Conditions and Infections

Certain infections raise your risk of blood cancer. Infections such as Epstein-Barr virus, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and the bacteria Helicobacter pylori increase your risk.

Family History

Having a close relative with a blood cancer may raise your risk.

Inherited Conditions

Down syndrome and certain inherited immune disorders increase your risk of blood cancer. You can also inherit certain genes that make you more likely to develop leukemia.


Black people are at higher risk for myelomas, and Caucasians are at higher risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Smoking is a risk factor for leukemia.

Suppressed Immune System

Taking immunosuppressant drugs may increase your risk.


Diagnosing Blood Cancers

We use the most advanced methods for diagnosis. A team of hematology specialists work together to diagnose both common and rare blood cancers.

Tests to diagnose blood cancer include:

  • Biopsy: A physician removes tissue samples so a pathologist can check the cells for cancer.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: A pathologist examines a sample of bone marrow — blood and a tiny piece of bone from inside your hip bone.
  • Blood tests and blood chemistry studies: Standard blood tests and measures of specific substances linked to blood cancers or organ function.
  • Imaging tests: Scans such as CT, MRI, PET (positron emission tomography), ultrasound and X-ray create pictures of your bones and organs. These tests reveal abnormalities that may be signs of cancer.
  • Spinal tap: Your physician removes some of the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord with a needle. A pathologist examines the fluid for signs of blood cancer.
  • Urine tests: Certain substances in urine can be a sign of blood cancer.

Blood Cancer Treatments at UC Davis Health

Clinical trials at UC Davis offer opportunities to receive the most current and effective therapies. Our Division of Hematology and Oncology is revolutionizing highly personalized treatments.

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, we create a treatment plan that is unique to you. The therapies you receive depend on the type of blood cancer you have and other factors. Most blood cancers require a combination of different types of treatment.


Specialized drugs help activate your immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.


Chemotherapy drugs stop the growth or production of cancer cells. Learn about our infusion center.

Other Drug Therapy

Corticosteroids, a type of steroid hormone, may be part of lymphoma treatment.


For this myeloma treatment, your blood goes through a machine that removes cancerous plasma. You then receive your blood cells back along with replacement plasma.  


High-energy radiation destroys cancer cells and keeps them from growing. Explore our Department of Radiation Oncology.

Stem Cell Transplant

You may receive new blood stem cells after high doses of radiation or anti-cancer drugs. The stem cells help your body make new blood cells. Read about our Stem Cell Transplant Program.


Surgical removal of tumors or cancerous tissue may be part of the treatment. Meet our team of cancer surgeons.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy drugs are tailored to only destroy cancer cells.

Cellular Therapy

This treatment uses your own blood cells that have been genetically modified to attack blood cancer cells. UC Davis is leading the way to bring this highly innovative therapy to more people.


Preventing Blood Cancers

Many causes of blood cancers are not preventable. You can lower your risk of blood cancers by avoiding radiation and chemical exposure.

Lifetime risk

1.6%Of men and women will be diagnosed with leukemia

A new blood cancer diagnosis occurs every

3Minutes in the U.S.

Source: National Institutes of Health: Cancer Stat Facts: Leukemia 

Source: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Facts and Statistics Overview 

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



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