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More than leukemia: Common blood disorders treated by hematologists

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In partnership with Fox45

August 30, 2021
Hematology-oncology is often associated with the treatment of leukemia and lymphoma. Zhuoyan (Yan) Li, M.D., a medical oncologist at the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute at GBMC explains this branch of medicine is dominated by benign hematology conditions rather than cancers.

In addition to hematologic malignancies, Dr. Li sees many patients for benign hematology conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, blood clots, and evaluation for abnormal bleeding. While these conditions are not malignant, Dr. Li says it’s important to recognize the risk factors and know when to see a physician.

Blood Clots
“Blood clots happen all the time,” Dr. Li says. “They can be caused by surgeries, hormonal medicines like estrogen-containing birth control, hospitalizations, or even a long flight or cross-country road trip.”

Common symptoms of blood clots include swelling in one arm or leg, persistent, throbbing pain, and/or redness in the extremity. Sometimes a piece of the clot can break off and lead to pulmonary embolisms that cause chest pain or shortness of breath.

“If you have any of these symptoms, even if you haven’t had any provoking events, get seen by your doctor immediately,” Dr. Li says.

Other risk factors for blood clots include pregnancy, family history, smoking, and a COVID-19 diagnosis, with high rates reported in the hospitalized patient population with COVID-19.

Treatment for blood clots usually includes the use of anticoagulant medication as the first line of therapy. Dr. Li says if a clot is severe enough, vascular surgeons may need to get involved for a surgical procedure.

Anemia/Iron Deficiency
One demographic that struggles more frequently with iron deficiency is young women with heavy periods.

Dr. Li says fatigue, shortness of breath, restless legs, and ice cravings are common symptoms that are often ignored.

“A lot of women hesitate to talk about it, because it feels normal for them, but the symptoms are severe enough that it’s making them sick,” Dr. Li says.

Iron supplements and iron infusions are common treatments that can make a huge difference in how an anemic patient feels.

Abnormal Bleeding
Bruising or bleeding after an injury is normal, but when they occur without an obvious event, further evaluation is needed.

“Talk with a hematologist to rule out certain diseases and give a very thorough health and family history as there are both inherited and acquired causes of abnormal bleeding,” Dr. Li says.

Treatment depends on what’s causing the bleeding but can include IV treatments and oral medications.

Dr. Li says if you have symptoms of any of the above disorders, it’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as possible. Seeing a hematologist may feel daunting but she encourages patients to ask why they’re being referred so they have a better idea of what they can expect when they see the hematologist.

“Hematology encompasses both benign and malignant conditions. Not everyone who sees us has cancer,” Dr. Li says.

Learn more about hematology at GBMC or to schedule an appointment at our website.
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