What is hematology?
Hematology is a branch of medicine that studies the blood and the organs that help create blood. Hematologists, doctors who specialize in hematology, study blood cells, blood vessels, platelets, the lymph nodes, bone marrow, the spleen and the proteins that are involved in bleeding and clotting.
Hematology and oncology are often studied together. But patients often have issues with the blood that aren’t related to cancer at all and need the hematologic services California Cancer Associates for Research and Excellence (cCARE) offers. Hematology issues include:
- Clotting disorders
- Bleeding disorders
- Low platelet counts.
When the body is injured and bleeding, the platelet blood cells stick together and form a clot in order to stop the bleeding. If a wound occurs on the outside of the body, such as on the knee, the platelets form a hard scab that is the body’s natural way of keeping germs from entering through the wound.
When the blood clots inside the body without injury, it can block the passage of blood to the heart, lungs and limbs, which can result in heart attack, stroke, loss of a limb and death.
Clotting disorders can be inherited through family genetics, acquired by disease, caused by medications or trauma, or be a symptom of other medical complications such as obesity.
Hematologists often treat clotting disorders with an oral blood thinning medication. The blood thinning medication, called an anticoagulant, reduces the blood’s ability to clot properly.
If used in excess, the lack of clotting could cause other serious medical conditions. Clotting medication is prescribed differently for each patient depending on the condition, severity and personal and family history.
A variety of bleeding disorders can occur when the body has difficulty with blood clotting. This disorder can lead to heavy and prolonged bleeding with an injury. Bleeding may also begin with no apparent cause. These issues can range from mild to severe.
Bleeding disorders may be inherited through family genetics, present at birth, developed from certain illnesses or caused by use of anticoagulants and antibiotics. Some bleeding disorders include, hemophilia A and B, acquired platelet function defects, congenital platelet function defects and several others.
Anemia is a common blood condition that affects more than 3.5 million Americans. Anemia occurs when the amount of red blood cells in the blood is too low. The red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Oxygen helps each organ function properly and gives the body energy.
Symptoms of anemia can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat.
Anemia can be caused by a number of conditions including iron deficiency, vitamin deficiency, sickle cell disease, which is an inherited disorder, or when diseases of the bone marrow affect the production of red blood cells.
Low platelet count
Also known as thrombocytopenia (platelets are called thrombocytes), low platelet count means there are too few platelets, the colorless type of blood cell, to adequately cause clotting to stop or slow bleeding. This often occurs as a result of another disease such as cancer, immune system problems, the cancer treatments radiation and chemo that can damage stem cells that help produce platelets, and other causes and conditions. Low platelet count can also be an inherited condition.
Low platelet count generally occurs due to one of three factors: bone marrow doesn’t make enough platelets; the body uses or destroys platelets; or the spleen holds on to platelets rather than releasing them into the body.
Treatments depend on the individual situation, and some patients with low platelet count do not require medical intervention. Treatment options include medications, blood transfusions and removal of the spleen.
Hematology services at cCARE
Patients referred to cCARE for hematology services can expect excellent care including gentle blood draws, quick and accurate lab work, and a caring and compassionate environment.