Stem cell donors have crucial role to play in the future of blood health
Haematology Dr Suzy Lishman, President of the Royal College of Pathologists, highlights the need for more stem cell donors to give patients with blood cancers the chance of a cure.
25,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer every year in the UK; that’s one person every 20 minutes. Blood cancers include leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and can affect people of any age, including young children.
Doctors and scientists are striving to find better treatments for people with blood cancer. Investment in this area is vital to fund the research that we hope will one day provide a cure. Recent advances have resulted in much improved outcomes for children with leukaemia, for example, with 88 per cent now living for at least five years after being diagnosed.
The revolution in DNA technology has huge potential to improve the outcome for people with blood cancer. In chronic myeloid leukaemia, for example, treatment and survival have already been transformed by personalised medicine, in which the precise molecular abnormality that causes the disease is targeted by a ‘designer drug’.
While many advances have been made, some blood cancers are becoming more common. Further research is essential if cure is to become a reality for patients.
Help save lives - become a bone marrow donor
One of the most successful treatments currently available is a stem cell transplant. This involves normal stem cells (found in the bone marrow) being donated by a healthy donor. These replace the stem cells of the person with blood cancer, which may have been damaged by the aggressive chemotherapy needed to treat the disease. Without the donated stem cells, the patient may not be able to withstand the treatment that is their only hope of a cure.
Two thousand people a year need a stem cell transplant from a matched donor. Registries need more volunteers, particularly from black and Asian backgrounds. To mark World Blood Cancer Day why not sign up as a bone marrow donor and help save lives?