Every 35 seconds, someone in the world is diagnosed with a blood cancer.
September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month – a global awareness event dedicated to raising awareness of blood cancer and helping those affected by this devastating range of conditions. To support the event, we look back at some of the key developments in the battle against blood cancers as well as the potential for further advances.
Blood cancer is a broad term that encompasses leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma, each of which can be defined by the type of cell that is being subjected to uncontrollable growth and division in the blood, bone marrow or the lymph nodes, respectively.
Blood cancers may not be as prevalent as common killers such as breast, lung and prostate cancer; however, their burden remains high and there is still much that needs to be done in terms of improving research, treatment and care.
According to a survey on the global cancer burden, which examined data on 36 common cancers from 185 countries, there were over 544,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 260,000 deaths in 2020, with the highest incidence rates found in Australia/New Zealand, North America and Europe . The number of cases and death for leukaemia were similar, with approximately 475,000 new cases and almost 312,000 deaths .
Despite more than a million people across the globe experiencing the pain of a blood cancer diagnosis every year, awareness of the disease is still very low.
As with all diseases, early diagnosis is important to in the successful treatment of blood cancer, which is helped by awareness of the symptoms of the disease. People with blood cancer may experience a range of symptoms, including:
- unexplained weight loss
- unexplained bruising or bleeding
- lumps or swellings
- breathlessness/shortness of breath
- night sweats
- infections that are persistent, recurrent or severe
- fever (37.5°C or above)
- unexplained rash or itchy skin
- pain in the bones, joints or abdomen
- fatigue/tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep
- paleness (pallor) – the skin under the lower eyelid looks white rather than pink.
Find out more about blood cancer symptoms .
Treatment progress and the future
Despite these appalling figures, much progress has been made over the past 50 years. In regard to the treatment of lymphoma, we have seen the successful use of bone marrow transplantation (1975), the approval of rituximab (1997) and the development of radioimmunotherapy (early 2000s). For the treatment of myeloma, we saw the introduction of peripheral blood stem cell transplantation in the 1990s and the launch of bortezomib and lenalidomide, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003 and 2005, respectively. The future looks bright too. A dizzying array of options for various types of leukaemias, including Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and many novel targeted therapies, have either been approved or are on the cusp of being so.
How you can help
Blood cancer patient advocacy group DKMS says that people can offer support in a number of ways, including becoming a blood stem cell donor, raising awareness and money, and getting involved in one of their campaigns for Blood Cancer Awareness Month 2022 | DKMS
In the UK, Blood Cancer UK is celebrating over 60 years of campaigning and providing patient support, as well as raising over £500 million for blood cancer research. It is worth checking out CEO Gemma Peter’s whistle-stop tour through 60 years of blood cancer research, which can be found on their website (https://bloodcancer.org.uk/research/impact).
1. Sung H, Ferlay J, Siegel RL et al. Global Cancer Statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA Cancer J Clin 2021; 71 (3): 209–249.
2. Blood Cancer UK. Blood cancer symptoms and signs. Blood cancer symptoms and signs | Blood Cancer UK. Accessed August 2022