DURHAM – Professor of Medicine at the Duke Cancer Institute, Dr. David Rizzieri explains the blood cancer that you may have heard of but might not completely understand.

“Your blood has three types of cells: platelets that help the blood clot; red cells carry oxygen, and white cells fight infection,” Dr. Rizzieri says. “When a white blood cell starts growing out of control it causes a cancer. That can be either a lymphoma, myeloma, or leukemia depending on the specific cell and where it has started losing control.”

WCHL’s Ron Stutts spoke with Dr. Rizzieri on the WCHL Tuesday Morning News.

***Listen to the Interview***

He says since there are many different types of infections, there are many different types of white blood cells.

Dr. Rizzieri says those three cancers account for about 150,000 cancers each year and ten percent of new cancers each year.

He says leukemia is often not an easy disease to catch.

“Patients often present in a very nebulous way in very non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, not quite performing their normal daily activities as they are used to,” Dr. Rizzieri says. “There may be bruising, increased sleeping, things that would lead them to often see their general physician and initially be treated for an infection or something like that, and then it doesn’t get better

And, Dr. Rizzieri says the treatments vary depending on the specific types of Leukemia.

“Some are observed and are only treated when they make the patient feel poorly as our therapies can control the blood cells for many years,” Dr. Rizzieri says. “Others are aggressive, fast-growing leukemias, and our current therapies require intravenously-delivered chemotherapy which can have many side effects and take a while to recover from.”

Dr. Rizzieri was not speaking about any specifics of UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell’s diagnosis of leukemia; Hatchell is being treated at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The type of leukemia Hatchell has is unknown, but it is said it was caught early.