September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness for patients with one of several types of blood cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Not only are blood cancers the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, these cancers are particularly tragic because they can strike at an early age. Unlike lung, colon or breast cancer, leukemia is the most common cancer in children and teens today, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. However, blood cancer can affect anyone, at any time.
There is no way to prevent or screen for most blood cancers, so the health care community is instead focused on finding cures.
In recent years, science has advanced quickly and opened doors for more precise treatment, as we have seen exciting progress in our understanding of and ability to treat blood cancers. For example, we now know that “diseases of the blood” – as they were known a few decades ago – include at least 35 types of leukemia and 50 different lymphomas, based on genetic differences. Many new medicines are able to target cancers at the molecular level, and the treatment outlook has never been better for patients.
This progress has meant that survival rates for blood cancer patients has doubled, tripled and sometimes even quadrupled. For example, five-year relative survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in children under age 15 jumped from three percent in 1964 to 92 percent in 2010, and the overall five-year relative survival rate for leukemia patients has more than quadrupled since 1960 from 14 percent to 60.3 percent. Similar improvements have been seen in the ability to treat two other major types of blood cancers: Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma.