World Blood Cancer Day

Tuesday 17th May 2016

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World Blood Cancer Day is approaching rapidly. On the 28th May 2016, local and international charities are highlighting and educating about haematological malignancies, and asking potential donors to sign up on stem cell registers.

There are over 130 types of blood cancer, and haematological malignancies comprise approximately 10% of all new cancer diagnoses in the West. In the UK alone, 30,000 patients are diagnosed annually: more than 70 people every day. Blood cancer is the most common malignancy in children and young adults, accounting for almost half of all paediatric cancers.

Currently, blood cancer is the third largest cancer killer in the UK, associated with approximately 14,000 deaths annually: that’s about 40 per day. However, almost two thirds of patients survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

The blood cancers most often reported in the press and media, and thus more widely known, include leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Leukaemia occurs in two subtypes (myeloid and lymphoblastic) and affects white blood cells, increasing the production of immature cells and ‘clogging up’ the bone marrow. This, in turn, prevents production of other blood cells vital for a balanced immune system.

Acute leukaemia presents suddenly, progresses quickly and requires urgent treatment – it is the type of leukaemia most characterised by the popular media, and is the most common paediatric cancer (approximately a third of all cases).

Chronic leukaemia may develop over months or years, and is less popularised by the general media. The survival rates for chronic leukaemia are quite high, at around 70-80%; these rates increase with earlier diagnosis and treatment, and younger age.

Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system and causes an overproduction of long-living lymphocytes, compromising the immune system. Lymphoma is the most common haematological malignancy in young people aged 15 to 24 and can develop in many parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, bone marrow, blood and spleen. There are two distinct categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma (previously, Hodgkin’s disease) and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Approximately 85% of Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients survive (5-year time point), and 65% of NHL patients.

Myeloma (also called multiple myeloma) is a malignancy of the plasma cells, the white blood cells which produce antibodies. In myeloma, large quantities of abnormal plasma cells gather in the bone marrow and prevent production of healthy cells. Myeloma is the largest blood cancer killer, comprising over 10% of all haematological malignancies; less than half of all patients survive to 5 years – partly as there are only a few treatment options.

In the UK, over 13,000 people are diagnosed with other, rare forms of blood cancers, including myeloproliferative neoplasms and myelodysplastic syndromes. Approximately 80% of patients with other blood cancers survive to 5 years.

World Blood Cancer Day aims to raise awareness and inspire action in the fight against blood cancer. It is a day of hope for the thousands of patients seeking a bone marrow donor.