What do leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma have in common? They’re all blood cancers. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, more than 1.5 million people today are living with or in remission from blood cancer.

Illustration highlighting blood cancer awareness monthShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Maya Chastain

Blood cancers are a complex group of diseases. Advances in treatment are helping more people live longer after diagnosis. But more than a third of people with blood cancer live fewer than 5 years after diagnosis.

If you see red ribbons popping up, it’s because September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month — and for good reason. Every 3 minutes, someone in the United States learns they have a blood cancer.

But what are the symptoms? Can a test reveal whether you have blood cancer before you even have symptoms? Who’s at risk and what should you discuss with a doctor?

Blood Cancer Awareness Month exists so that more people will learn the answers to these questions. You can help by sharing facts and information online and in your community, as well as supporting people who are living with blood cancer.

It’s not clear exactly what causes a person to develop a blood cancer. In general, the risk of getting cancer increases with age. A family history of blood cancer may also increase your risk.

Leukemia risk factors

Leukemia typically refers to cancers of the white blood cells. White blood cells are a vital part of your immune system. They protect your body from infections and viruses.

When leukemia cells divide rapidly, they can crowd out healthy cells in your bone marrow, such as your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

In addition to older age and having a family history of leukemia, risk factors of leukemia may include:

  • exposure to radiation
  • treatment with certain chemotherapy drugs
  • having had blood cancer in the past
  • certain viral infections, such as human T-cell leukemia and Epstein Barr
  • Down syndrome and other genetic syndromes
  • smoking

Fast facts about leukemia

  • Leukemia will affect approximately 1.5% of people in their lifetime.
  • It’s the most common cancer in children and teens.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for leukemia in the United States is 65.7% (2012-2018 data).
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Lymphoma risk factors

Lymphomas are cancers that start in the lymphatic system and affect white blood cells called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma are the two primary types of lymphoma, but there are additional subtypes.

Risk factors for lymphoma include:

Fast facts about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma will affect about 2.1% of people in their lifetime.
  • You can get it at any age, but more than half of people are 65 or older at diagnosis. The overall risk is higher in men than women and higher in White people than African American or Asian American people.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the United States is 73.8% (2012–2018 data).
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Fast facts about Hodgkin’s lymphoma

  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin’s disease, will affect approximately 0.2% of people in their lifetime.
  • It’s most common in early adulthood, with an average age of 39 at diagnosis.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the United States is 89.1% (2012–2018 data).
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Myeloma risk factors

Myeloma (also called multiple myeloma) is a cancer that develops in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Plasma cells make antibodies that protect our bodies from infection.

The rapid reproduction of cancerous plasma cells results in the creation of monoclonal proteins, which quickly overtake the production of healthy cells in your bone marrow. This can cause kidney damage and other health issues.

Risk factors for myeloma include:

Fast facts about myeloma

  • Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, will affect about 0.8% of people in their lifetime.
  • It’s slightly more common among people assigned male at birth.
  • It’s rare before age 40 years, and the median age at diagnosis is 68 years.
  • African Americans get myeloma at twice the rate of white Americans.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for myeloma is 57.9% (2012–2018 data).
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Blood cancers that progress slowly are chronic, and they may not cause symptoms for many years. Fast-growing blood cancers are acute, and they tend to have more obvious symptoms.


Leukemia is cancer in blood cells and bone marrow. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • paleness and shortness of breath due to anemia
  • increased bruising and bleeding


Lymphomas start in the lymph system. Symptoms may include:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fever, night sweats
  • weight loss
  • fatigue


Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells. Asymptomatic myeloma is called smoldering myeloma. Some symptoms are:

  • bone pain, particularly in the back and ribs
  • weakness, fatigue, and paleness due to anemia
  • frequent bacterial infections, such as pneumonia

There are no routine screening guidelines for blood cancers. But you can get an annual wellness check that includes routine blood testing. A complete blood count (CBC) can help detect some blood cancers. For example, atypical CBC tests often are the first clue for chronic leukemia.

There’s no way to completely prevent blood cancer, and many risk factors are things you can’t change. It may be that a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors combine to make cancer more likely. In general, you can lower your risk of developing cancer by:

It may be worth discussing risk factors with a doctor if you have:

  • a personal or family history of blood cancer
  • had previous radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • had high exposure to radiation

More frequent doctor visits or blood tests may help catch blood cancer early. And be sure to let a doctor know if you are experiencing symptoms.

Although people today are living longer with blood cancer, there’s still a lot of work to be done to drive innovative research and accelerate the development of new treatments and potential cures.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a good time to learn more about risk factors and symptoms, and support research for blood cancers.

If you have a blood cancer or care about someone who does, sharing your story can help inform and support others. You can learn more via the following organizations.