Blood Cancer and Other Health Conditions

Last updated: March 2019

Navigating life with blood cancer can be overwhelming at times, and for some, their blood cancer is not the only condition they’re battling. One condition on its own can be tough, however, adding more health issues and additional symptoms can be even more challenging. In order to gain a better understanding of life with multiple conditions, including blood cancer, we conducted our 2018 Blood Cancer In America survey. Over 2,500 individuals with blood cancer and 600 caregivers to an individual with blood cancer participated in the survey, and weighed in on their experiences with multiple co-occurring (also sometimes referred to as comorbid) conditions. Over 80% of respondents reported having one, or more, comorbid conditions.

Additional cancers

Nearly 25% of individuals said that they had been diagnosed with another type of cancer unrelated to their blood cancer. The most common cancers reported were:

  • Skin cancer (13% of survey respondents)
  • Breast cancer (4% of survey respondents)
  • Prostate cancer (2% of survey respondents)
  • Other types of cancer including cervical, colon, kidney, ovarian, thyroid, or uterine (7% of survey respondents)

When another, separate cancer develops in the body, it’s called a secondary cancer. In the majority of cases, the development of a secondary cancer is unrelated to the first cancer. However, some factors that could have contributed to the development of an individual’s blood cancer may also increase their risk of developing more cancers. These include, but are not limited to, lifestyle choices such as smoking or high alcohol intake, a family history of cancer, previous cancer as a child, advanced age, and previous cancer treatment.1

Other co-occurring conditions

Aside from other cancers, there were several other conditions that were commonly reported alongside an individual’s blood cancer. Some of these include:

  • Hypertension/high blood pressure (31% of survey respondents)
  • Neuropathy/numbness in the hands and feet (29% of survey respondents)
  • Arthritis/osteoarthritis (23% of survey respondents)
  • High cholesterol (21% of survey respondents)
  • Overweight/obesity (21% of survey respondents)

Other conditions that were reported by 10-15% of survey participants included GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), anxiety or panic disorders, diabetes, thyroid or glandular disease, sleep disorders or sleep apnea, mood disorders (such as depression), cardiovascular disease, and chronic pain.

Managing multiple health conditions

Navigating one condition can be challenging enough, let alone two or more life-altering issues. There are several steps that may be useful in helping you fight your battle to the best of your ability. Some of these include:

  • Following your treatment plan: Taking any and all medications as prescribed, attending appointments with your healthcare provider regularly, and attending treatment sessions when instructed are all ways to help your body take on any and all conditions you are facing. Checking in with your healthcare provider when something seems off or when a new side effect or symptom arises is also a great way to stay ahead of any complications down the road.
  • Set realistic goals: When treating multiple conditions at once, there may be limitations in the kinds of medications you can take, or treatments you can undergo. Talking with your provider about what issues you are most interested in alleviating and making a plan that helps you most realistically resolve them (if possible) is a good way to help keep you in the know, as well as make your preferences a priority.
  • Ask questions and do your research: Taking notes during your healthcare appointments, asking questions about test results or medications you are unsure about, and researching your conditions outside of your appointments are all great ways to keep yourself and your needs at the center of your care. It is important to remember that there is a lot of information on the internet, and not everything published is valid. When doing research, make sure to use sources that are reviewed by healthcare professionals or that are created by national and/or reliable organizations.
  • Enlist support: Managing multiple conditions, including a blood cancer, can be incredibly overwhelming. Asking a friend, family member, or loved one to attend healthcare appointments or treatments with you may help give you the courage to continue to battle your conditions when you are feeling down, scared, or frustrated. Keeping open lines of communication with those you need the most can help give you the strength you need to keep fighting.

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