Award-winning actress, Jill Clayburgh, 66, recently passed away. She lived with a blood cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) for over 20 years and during this time acted in dozens of movies, plays and TV series while living with cancer, according to her IMDb filmography.
Although much remains to be done in cancer research, Ms. Clayburgh’s case shows that medical science has in some cases succeeded in transforming cancer from a fatal disease to a manageable chronic illness that is compatible with a full, rich and productive life.
Since we’ve been covering “the medical facts behind the headlines” of celebrity illnesses, we’ve seen more than a dozen cases of blood cancers (which doctors call hematological malignancies encompassing leukemias and lymphomas). So we thought it might be a good time to review the basics of these “liquid” tumors derived from normal white blood cells and highlight the most important similarities and differences. By the way, the doctors who take care of patients with these types of tumors are called Hematologist/Oncologists (or just Heme/Onc).
||Type of Cancer|
|Andy Whitfield||26||non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
|Barbara Padilla||36||Hodgkin’s Disease|
|Bob Bogle||75||non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
|Ethan Zohn||35||Hodgkin’s Disease|
|Frank Lautenberg||86||non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
|Harvey Pekar||70||non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
|Jill Clayburgh||66||chronic lymphocytic leukemia|
|Kareem Abdul-Jabbar||62||chronic myelogenous leukemia|
|Mary Travers||72||acute myelogenous leukemia|
|Michael C. Hall||39||Hodgkin’s Disease|
|Paul Allen||56||Hodgkin’s Disease (1983), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (2009)|
|Rich Cronin||35||acute myelogenous leukemia|
|Ryan O’Neal||69||chronic myelogenous leukemia|
The reason that these leukemias and lymphomas are grouped together is that different white blood cells that develop into these tumors all come from the same origin, namely blood stems cells in your bone marrow that give rise to both our red blood cells (which carry oxygen through our bodies) and white cells of the blood and lymphatic (immune) system that protect us from infections.
The way leukemias and lymphomas are diagnosed are by a pathologist looking through a microscope (and doing other special tests) on samples from the patient’s blood (below left) and bone marrow (below right).
For lymphomas, a surgeon will also biopsy one of more lymph nodes or other tissues and send them to the pathologist for analysis. The pathologist will then send a report back to the Heme/Onc doctor who will decide how to treat the specific disease.
For more information on the various leukemias and lymphomas, click on the links in the table above.