Today, 28 May, marks World Blood Cancer Day – a global awareness day dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and raising awareness for those affected by blood cancer. To support the event, we look back at some of the key developments in the battle against this broad range of diseases 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 .
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, which is the prime mover behind World Blood Cancer Day, 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, such as #WearItRed this World Blood Cancer Day
In the UK, it is currently Blood Cancer Awareness Month and 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.