10 Things You Need to Know About Blood Cancer in 2016
Education & Research Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma account for almost 10 percent of new cancer cases in the U.S. each year. Treatment is getting better all the time, but there’s still work to do.
1. Leukemia affects white blood cells
Healthy white blood cells help your body fight infection. If a person has leukemia, abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells, form in the bone marrow and spread into the bloodstream, where they compete with healthy cells and weaken the immune system.
2. Myeloma affects plasma cells
Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce antibodies. In myeloma, abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) accumulate in the bone marrow, which can cause weak bones, fractures and other symptoms.
3. Lymphoma affects lymphatic cells
Lymphatic cells are a type of white blood cell that appear in the bloodstream and the lymph system, which fights infection. Lymphoma often causes swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin, and can appear in many other parts of the body.
4. They contain multitudes
There are four main types of leukemia and dozens of subtypes of lymphoma. Some are extremely rare, and these can be more difficult to treat because they receive less research funding than other cancers that affect more people.
5. No screening for early detection
Unlike breast or colon cancer, which can be detected and treated early thanks to regular screenings, there are no effective screening tests for blood cancers. This means that people with these diseases usually don’t know something is wrong until they experience symptoms like weight loss, fever or weakened immunity.
6. Living longer
Survival rates have doubled in the last 20 years. According to the National Institutes of Health, 46.4 percent of people diagnosed with leukemia live 5 years or longer. That rate climbs to 70.0 percent for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 85.9 percent for Hodgkin lymphoma.
7. Living better
New treatments are being developed that target specific proteins in cancer cells without harming other cells. This leads to fewer side effects and better quality of life for patients.
8. On the brink of discovery
Some cutting-edge treatments seem especially promising. These include immunologic treatments that harness the body’s immune system to fight malignancy, genomic profiling of the many types and subtypes of cancer cells and new developments in stem cell biology.
9. But there’s still a way to go
Scientists have roadmapped what they want to research next, but they have also identified big gaps in funding. Even though Congress increased the NIH’s budget by $2 billion for 2016, years of budget cuts before this have taken their toll. Funding shortfalls are especially frustrating to researchers now, when major breakthroughs seem so close.
10. It takes a village
Over the last two decades, non-government organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the American Society of Hematology, and the American Cancer Society have contributed a larger percentage of total cancer research funding. And these organizations wouldn’t be able to help without financial support from other philanthropies and individuals. Fighting blood cancers is a massive effort. We’re all in it together.