Blood cancer is the third biggest cancer killer, and yet awareness of the condition remains dangerously low.
Blood cancer claims more lives than prostate cancer or breast cancer each year, yet awareness levels are worrying low. Part of the problem is that blood cancers are often referred to by their individual names, rather than as a collective group, so people just don’t realise quite how prevalent they are.
Categorising conditions in this way means that the public, patients, health services and the government are failing to recognise the devastating, cumulative impact of blood cancer. “The government and other organisations don’t recognise blood cancers together, which means the weight put behind resourcing it is lower,” says Gemma Peters, CEO of Bloodwise.
Blood cancer behaves differently from other cancers
Blood cancers don’t behave like other tumours and so the treatment pathway is very different. Rather than being referred to oncology units, blood cancer patients often find themselves in haematology departments where they may see doctors who are specialists in a range of blood conditions, but not necessarily blood cancer.
Blood cancer claims more lives than prostate cancer or breast cancer each year.
“There is a huge variation in the quality and consistency of care provided to blood cancer patients. They are also much less likely to have access to a clinical nurse specialist than some other cancers,” says Peters. “The government’s Cancer Strategy talks a lot about living beyond cancer, but it doesn’t talk as much about living with cancer, which is the reality for many blood cancer patients who will have to take medication for the rest of their lives.”
For some patients who have a very slow onset of cancer, the side effects of treatment are considered much worse than living with the cancer itself, so they are not put on medication immediately. Instead, they have to ‘watch and wait’ to see how their condition progresses.
Improved diagnosis and treatment pathways
The physical and psychological impact this has on a patient cannot be underestimated, and was one of the points highlighted in a report released by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Blood Cancer earlier this year. The report made a number of recommendations calling on government, the NHS and individual trusts and health commissioners to improve the care and treatment of people with blood cancer.
At the heart of the report is a renewed effort to raise awareness of blood cancer and to provide better joined up working between primary and secondary health services, and between oncology and haematology teams. The report recommends that this encompasses not just the medical care but also psychological support, particularly for those who fall into the ‘watch and wait’ category or ‘watch and worry’ as many patients refer to it.
While there is much more that can be done to improve care for blood cancer patients, Peters is keen to point out that there are strong foundations to build on. “We are optimistic about the future, but need renewed pressure to keep blood cancer in the forefront of people’s minds,” concludes Peters.