Lillian Wilson

Five Strategies For Preventing Blood Cancers Through Healthy Lifestyle

Blood cancer can strike everyone at every age, even a small child. Luckily, healthy lifestyle strategies can help lower cancer risks.


As an adolescent, I witnessed how one event can change one’s life entirely. On a nice sunny day, brimming with the joy of children’s laughter, a young girl was playing with her friends in the schoolyard. What can possibly go wrong? Nothing, right? But suddenly the girl faints away with no sign of breathing. Then an awful commotion overwhelms the crowd, the audience is called, people are crying and many are standing still watching.

A few weeks afterwards the terrible news of that girl having leukaemia travelled all over the town. As her mother tells: ‘the next 2 years were just doctors, chemo and donor search’. The event was devastating for the family. Imagine seeing your own child who just a few weeks ago had all their life ahead now fighting for it, bearing waves of sharp and dull bone pains and leukaemia. Luckily, childhood leukaemia is one of the few success stories in our war on cancer, with five-year survival rates as high as 90%.

What differentiates blood cancer amongst cancer types is definitely that it strikes people of all ages, even a child of 2 years old. In 2020 there were 544,000 new cases of lymphoma, 474,000 – of leukaemia, and 176,00 new cases of myeloma. Leukaemia claimed 311,000 lives, lymphoma – 259,000 and myeloma 117,00.

What is blood cancer?

Cancers of the blood are sometimes called liquid tumours because their cells often circulate throughout the body rather than getting consolidated into a solid mass. Our blood consists of red and white cells. When blood cancer hits the body there is the abnormal growth of cells that begin to interfere with normal functions of our blood: fighting against diseases and infections, reducing excessive bleeding, recovering from injuries, etc.

There are three main types of blood cancer, though it should be noted that each type has multiple subtypes.


Leukaemia is cancer found within the blood and the bone marrow (a soft sponge tissue inside our bones that produces stem cells and these cells in turn produce white and red blood cells). This cancer is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white cells that impair the ability of blood marrow to produce healthy blood cells so that body cannot protect itself from infections and diseases. This process may lead to anaemia, infection, and, eventually, death.


Lymphoma is a blood cancer of lymphocytes – white blood cells responsible for fighting infections. Lymphoma cells multiply quickly and crowd out healthy cells and impair the body’s ability to fight infections.


Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells that are responsible for producing antibodies that help us to fight against diseases and infections.

Main risk factors of blood cancer

Environmental Exposures

Exposure to certain chemicals may increase the risk of developing a blood cancer such as leukaemia or lymphoma. It is thought that certain chemicals may damage DNA or other genetic material in the body, leading to the development of cancer. Some chemicals that have been linked to an increased risk of blood cancer are all around us, in our houses, gardens and even furniture. Blood cancer-provoking chemicals include:

  • benzene (found in paints, glues, plastic, and cleaning products)

  • formaldehyde (found in pressed wood items, air fresheners, upholstery, and wallpaper)

  • certain pesticides (found in gardening chemicals).

Chemical exposure can affect a child even before birth. High benzene exposure during pregnancy is found to cause leukaemia in early childhood. Leukaemia rates were 47% higher in children exposed to insecticides indoors, and lymphoma rates were 43% higher.


Radiation exposure can make the risk of blood cancer higher. The atomic bomb blast in Japan is a well-known example of this, as people who were exposed to the radiation from the blast had a higher rate of developing cancer even many years afterwards. Some people in Japan are still affected by radiation-related cancer today.


Smoking can cause cancer of any organ and blood cancer is not an exception. Study shows that current and ever smokers have a 40% and 25% greater risk of developing leukaemia if compared to those who do not smoke. A more recent study found that people smoking more than 15 cigarettes a day had 42% higher odds of developing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a 147% increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma. No scientific association between myeloma and smoking was found.

Family History

Certain types of blood cancer can be inherited, meaning they can be passed down from family members through genetic mutations. These mutations can increase a person’s risk of developing blood cancer. It is estimated that between 3-10% of all cancers are related to inherited genes.

Chemotherapy Drugs

Patients treated with chemotherapy have a high risk of developing blood cancer.


Men are slightly more likely to succumb to all types of blood cancer: leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. For instance, it is estimated that in the US, one in 42 men and one in 52 women will develop lymphoma in their lifetimes.

Main symptoms of blood cancer

The main issue with blood cancer is that it can progress for a long time asymptomatically. And even if symptoms are present they can be confused with other illnesses. This puts early detection and efficient treatment in jeopardy. That is why we all should be aware of signs to call in the doctor as soon as we notice something is slightly not right.

The symptoms may vary depending on the type and subtype of blood cancer, but generally, the signs are:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Night sweats

  • Weight loss

  • Infections

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Anaemia

  • Easy bleeding or bruising

  • Bone pain

  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it’s important to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose and treat blood cancer.

Five healthy ways to prevent blood cancer

There are several ways of treating blood cancer medically, these are chemotherapy, radiation therapy and transplantation of bone marrow. Even though medicine is very efficient in treating the very malady (the five-year survival rate for blood cancer is around 70%), chemo is always accompanied by severe side effects and finding a matching transplant is extremely costly and hard as even your relatives cannot be a perfect match.

The good thing is that we can try to reverse any disease by our actions – by being proactive about health and taking on healthy habits.

1Eat a diet high in fruits and veggies

Diet is a fundamental pillar of our health, and to the same extent, it is important for having healthy blood. According to a 2018 study, a Western diet (high in fats, sugar, and processed and convenience food) may increase the risk of developing leukaemia. Compared with people eating a Mediterranean or Prudent diet, people eating a Western diet were 63% more likely to develop leukaemia.

A study conducted by Oxford University also proves the positive effect of plant food consumption in blood cancer cases. After following 60,000 people, it was concluded that participants who consumed a plant-based diet were less likely to develop all forms of cancer combined. It seemed to provide the greatest protection against blood cancers. There was a nearly half reduction in the incidence of leukaemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma among vegetarians.

Greens and citruses are especially protective against cancer

Researchers from Yale University conducted a study in which they followed over 500 women with lymphomas for about 8 years. Patients whose diet was high in leafy greens, vegetables, fruits and citrus fruits had a significantly lower risk of dying from lymphoma. The results vary depending on a subtype of lymphoma, for instance, ladies with follicular lymphoma experienced a 73% reduced risk of death. Rich in vegetable-citrus and fruit-citrus combinations also gave 45% and 60% reduced risk of death for patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, respectively.

This suggests that a diet high in plants may be beneficial in both prevention and cancer treatment.

2Keep weight in a healthy range

It is not entirely clear why obesity may increase the risk of blood cancer, such as leukaemia. Some research suggests that excess body fat may affect the production and function of certain immune cells and hormones, which could increase the risk of cancer. Obesity has also been linked to inflammation in the body, which may contribute to the development of cancer.

According to study obesity negatively affects all three types of blood cancer. In males with body mass index (BMI) in the range of 30-40 kg/m2 the risk of myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was approximately 50%; in females of the same BMI range the risk was 45%. The risk of leukaemia was 37% greater in men with a BMI of 30–35 kg/m2.

Thus, it is important to keep your body mass index in a healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2. This can be achieved through being physically active and eating a healthy diet.

3Engage in regular physical activity

Always being in movement is associated with good overall health as well as it is beneficial for our blood. Being physically active, in general, has a positive effect on immune system function by making it mere resilient to diseases including cancers. Physical activity improves blood circulation which helps to transport oxygen and nutrients to the cells in our body. This can keep the blood healthy and functioning properly.

A study of 1.4 million participants found that leisure-time physical activity was associated with lower risks of many cancer types including blood cancers. The risks of getting leukaemia and myeloma were 20% and 17% lower in physically active participants.

Another study revealed that women who engaged in 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity per week had an 11-18% lower risk of lymphoma.

Thus, the very results demonstrate a positive effect of physical activity and exercising on dropping blood cancer odds. It is generally recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week, or a combination of both.

4Give up smoking

Chemicals that tobacco smoke contains can be culprits of various cancer types including blood cancers. Smoking is detrimental not only to the individual who smokes but also to those around them. The risk of childhood leukaemia in offspring seems to increase when mothers smoke during pregnancy and even when secondhand smoke is present.

According to a study, the risk of acute myelogenous leukaemia was gradually dropping depending on the period of cessation. The longer a person had been smoke-free, the lower their risk. Specifically, those who quit 15 years ago had a 13% lower risk, those who stopped 25 years ago had a 22% lower risk, those who quit 35 years ago had a 37% lower risk, and those who ceased smoking 45 years ago had a 51% lower risk. These findings suggest that quitting smoking can have long-term benefits for cancer risk.

5Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

Having a healthy sleep pattern is important for regulating the immune system. People who get enough sleep tend to have stronger immunity which protects us from cancers and other diseases. Also, sleep regulates hormones like cortisol and insulin, which are associated with cancer development.

Recent studies have shown that night shifts can interfere with the natural body clock and cause chronic sleep deprivation, which might increase the risk of blood cancer by making the immune system work less efficiently.

A study in The International Journal of Cancer **found that night shift work is associated with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Those who worked night shifts for more than 15 years had a significantly greater risk of CLL, in contrast with day workers. This association was seen only among those who worked rotating shifts that required alternating schedules of nights and days, but not among those with permanent night schedules. This explains the importance of not having just enough sleep but maintaining a consistent sleeping schedule.

Thus, further investigation into sleep and other types of blood cancer association is still needed. Even so, in order to prevent the risks of any cancer and maintain a strong immunity an adult should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep.

How to prevent blood cancers? Let’s summarise

Blood cancer is a devastating event that may be venomous for people of all ages, even the youngest ones. It is very hard to protect yourself from the disease as it can be triggered by things around us such as cleaning products, varnishes and simple plastic that appears everywhere But it is better to look at the positive side and remember that we can always try to lower the risks of any malady by living healthier. Adopting and following the healthy lifestyle discussed in this article will help you improve your overall health and keep your blood in good condition.

Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues

If you want to learn more about blood cancers, we recommend you read the book ‘How Not to Die’ by Michael Greger. Not only does it provide insight into preventing and dealing with blood cancer but it also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from a variety of diseases and premature death. This article is inspired by the book. It is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.

How not to die Book Cover

Here is an animated video for your better understanding of blood cancer anatomy:

Healthypedia FAQ

Blood cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells in the blood, such as red and white blood cells and platelets. There are three main types of blood cancer: leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.

The main risk factors ofblood cancers include environmental exposures, exposure to radiation, smoking, family history of the disease and previous cancer history treated by chemotherapy, drugs.

Cigarette smoke contains toxins that can weaken the immune system, making it less able to fight off cancer cells. If this occurs, the cancer cells continue to grow and divide and healthy cells do not spop the development of abnormal ones. These toxins can also damage or alter the DNA of cells, increasing the risk of cancer development.

Men are slightly more likely to develop all types of blood cancer, including leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. It is estimated that in the US, one in 21 men and one in 52 women will develop lymphoma in their lifetimes.

According to a 2018 study, a Western diet may increase the risk of developing leukaemia. People eating a Western diet were 63% more likely to develop leukaemia compared to those following a Mediterranean or Prudent diet.

A study conducted by Oxford University found that participants who consumed a plant-based diet were less likely to develop all forms of cancer, including blood cancers. Vegetarians had a nearly 50% reduction in the incidence of leukaemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

Physical activity can improve immune system function and make it more resistant cancer. A study of 1.4 million participants found that leisure-time physical activity was associated with a 20% and 17% lower risks of leukaemia and myeloma.

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