Blood cancers affect the production and function of blood cells. There are 3 main groups - leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma but there are more than 100 individual types.
Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK.
There are more than 240,000 people living with blood cancer in the UK and 40,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer each year.
Blood cancer happens when something goes wrong with the development of your red blood cells. They usually start in the bone marrow, which is where blood is produced.
Blood cancers occur when abnormal blood cells start growing out of control, interrupting the function of normal blood cells, which fight off infection and produce new blood cells.
Blood Cancer Treatments
Treatment for blood cancer depends on the type of cancer, your age, how fast the cancer is progressing, where cancer has spread and other factors. Some common blood cancer treatments include:
Stem cell transplantation: A stem cell transplant infuses healthy blood-forming stem cells into the body. Stem cells may be collected from the bone marrow, circulating blood and umbilical cord blood.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to interfere with and stop the growth of cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy for blood cancer sometimes involves giving several drugs together in a set regimen. This treatment may also be given before a stem cell transplant.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy may be used to destroy cancer cells or to relieve pain or discomfort. It may also be given before a stem cell transplant.
Why Aren’t Stem Cell Donations Enough?
Every 20 minutes, someone in the UK is told they have a blood cancer like leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
Banking umbilical stem cells from cord blood and tissue can increase the likeliness of successful treatment. Having your own stem cells stored ready for when you need them bypasses the inefficient waiting time to find a matching donor.
This ensures that treatment goes ahead without any delays. Finding a person with a matching tissue type for someone in need of a blood stem cell donation is not easy.
With more than 17,000 known tissue characteristics, that can occur in millions of combinations, finding a matching donor can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Even with 27 million people on the stem cell registry, this still isn’t enough, and many people die each year because they are unable to find a matching donor.
Why Are Stem Cell Transplants/Infusions Needed?
Transplants help to restore the body’s ability to make blood cells after high-dose chemotherapy or radiation. The chemotherapy is used to kill blood cancer cells but also kills healthy bone marrow.
Stem cell transplants help restore the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells. In some cases, therapy followed by stem cell replacement cures cancer.
As many as 50,000 new transplants are done each year.
Finding A Match
Some patients can donate their own stem cells. Others must depend on donations from relatives or strangers.
Finding a close match is important. There can be problems if the new cells attack the patient’s cells or the patient’s immune system attacks the donor cells.
In The UK, Caucasians have a good chance of finding a non-related donor, but the odds drop for African-Carribean and Asians because fewer people in those groups have become donors.