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What is a Hematologist
(Blood Doctor)?

Hematologist with badge and stethoscope holding a pen, reviewing a patient's chart

Hematology is the study of blood and problems affecting red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, blood vessels, bone marrow, and proteins that prevent clotting or excessive bleeding.

Hematologists are physicians who study and treat common blood disorders and blood cancers.

What is their training?

Hematologists typically have a bachelor’s degree plus a degree from medical school. They have spent many years as interns and in residency programs, and often earn PhD degrees.

As a board-certified hematologist, it is necessary to continue their education throughout their career to maintain their certification. Because there are so many new developments each day in cancer treatment, some hematologists will specialize in blood cancers.

Often times, doctors who treat blood cancers have training in both hematology and oncology.

Common blood disorders that hematologists treat:

Many types of blood disorders exist, but some are more common than others. Common types include:
  • Anemia
  • Bleeding disorders like hemophilia
  • Clotting disorders
  • Blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma are also common blood disorders.

How does blood work?

Over half the blood in your body is plasma, which is the liquid part of your blood. It is made up of water, salts, fat, sugar and proteins. Plasma is what carries blood through the body and works to transport nutrients, carbon dioxide and other waste products, antibodies, clotting proteins, chemical messengers such as hormones, and proteins that help maintain the body’s fluid balance.

The other solid part of your blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

  • Red blood cells deliver oxygen from your lungs to your tissues and organs.
  • White blood cells are an important part of the body’s immune system and help to protect the body from infection.
  • Platelets help to control bleeding by working with proteins called clotting factors.
When any one of these components of your blood doesn’t work, it can cause impaired function that can lead to many types of diseases, including cancer.

Why do I need so many blood tests?

This is one of the most common questions we receive from patients. Blood tests can tell your doctor important information about your health. For example, a complete blood count (CBC) will indicate if your blood shows any signs of infection, immune system problems, bleeding problems, and anemia (low iron). If a blood chemistry panel is ordered, it will provide important information to your hematologist about your heart and other organs, your bones and muscles. This test also checks levels of blood sugar, calcium and other minerals in your blood and checks for levels of dehydration.

For cancer patients, hematologists/oncologists use blood tests to help diagnose cancer and monitor a patient’s blood counts and vital organs before and during their cancer treatment. Identifying specific tumor markers that can be detected in blood can aid in individualizing treatment, monitoring the status of the disease, and sometimes detect genetic abnormalities.