Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Dr Gunes Dr Hossami

Dr. Adem Günes & Dr. Abdulla El-Hossami

Blood Cancer Awareness Month

There are many different awareness dates held throughout the year and they are generally used to help the general public understand more about a particular topic. Many of these important awareness days, weeks and/or months are related to healthcare.

Most medical conditions have their own awareness date and some have more than one. Blood cancer is a case in point where events are organized to inform and engage people and raise money to help contribute to the growing body of research.

Blood Cancer Awareness Month takes place in September and was first designated by the US Congress in 2010. Since then it has become a worldwide event.

There is also World Blood Cancer Day, which is held each year on May 28 and aims to further improve global awareness of the disease.

Blood Cancer Awareness Month aims to highlight how nearly 14,000 people a month are diagnosed with blood cancer in the US alone. Our understanding of what causes leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases has improved over the decades, but there is still much to learn through continuous research.

During each Blood Cancer Awareness Month, events take place all around the globe including helping to raise funds for further research. Last year the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, for instance, managed to raise $400,000 through online donations and events.

Blood cancer covers a range of different conditions which generally develop in the bone marrow where new blood cells are produced. Blood has several functions, not least carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and helping to fight infection.

When cells become cancerous, the normal function of the blood is interrupted and this can cause a variety of symptoms. There is more than one kind of blood cancer but the most common are:

  • Leukemia, which begins in the bone marrow and the blood and prevents the production of vital red cells and platelets.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which affects the lymphocytes which help our bodies fight infection.
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma is similar but is characterized by a specific type of cancer cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell.
  • Multiple myeloma begins in the white blood cells which are made in the bone marrow.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of blood cancer. For instance, those with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be more prone to infections that won’t go away. Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath and swollen lymph nodes. Diagnosis can often take time as symptoms may be passed off as less serious ailments.

Unlike many other cancers, surgery is not an option here. The most common treatments are chemotherapy, radiation therapy and, more recently, stem cell transplants which are certainly proving highly effective for leukemia.

Some risk factors have been identified relating to blood cancer and these include:

  • Age: Leukemia is the most common cancer in young people. Blood cancers in general, however, tend to affect older individuals over the age of 55.
  • Family history: There is some evidence that genetics and a family history of blood diseases play a role in some types of cancer.
  • Chemical exposure: Some blood cancers have been linked to exposure to toxic chemicals such as benzene.
  • Smoking: As with many other cancers, a link has been found between smoking and the increased risk of blood cancer.

New procedures such as targeted therapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants have improved the survival rate for many thousands of people in the last few years. The facts and figures relating to blood cancer, however, are still stark:

  • Around the globe, more than 900,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer each year.
  • Someone in the US is diagnosed with blood cancer every 3 minutes and more than 170,000 are diagnosed each year.
  • There are 140 different kinds of blood cancers, most prevalent being leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
  • According to the BMS, 720,000 people die of blood cancers each year, representing 7% of all cancer deaths worldwide.
  • Childhood leukemia is the most common cancer in children accounting for 1 in 3 of all diagnoses.
  • In 1960, the survival rate for leukemia was 14%. By 2009 this had quadrupled to 65.8%.
  • Survival rates for all blood cancers vary depending on the type. 42% of people survive beyond 5 years when diagnosed with myeloma. With Hodgkin’s lymphoma it is 85%.
  • Leukemia is more common in people over the age of 55 and the median age of diagnosis is 66.

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