Blood Cancer Awareness Month
During 'Blood Cancer Awareness Month' we put the blood cancers multiple myeloma and chronic lymphatic leukaemia in the spotlight and show how Janssen is committed to making these conditions treatable and even curable in the future. We pay special attention to the CRAB criteria, four characteristic symptoms with which patients with multiple myeloma are often confronted.
Blood Cancer Diagnosis
In Belgium, many new cases of cancer are reported every year. Blood cancer plays an important part in this. In 2017, around 9% of the more than 67.000 diagnoses involved blood cancer1,2. There are many different variants of blood cancer, three main types are distinguished: leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma3.
The main reason that people with blood cancer turn to their doctor is that they have symptoms such as increased susceptibility to infections and fatigue. This is often the result of a disturbed blood count. The reason for this is that the production of blood cells is disrupted by the different forms of blood cancer: cancer cells disrupt the balance between blood cells.
Chronic lymphatic leukaemia
Chronic lymphatic leukaemia, or CLL in short, is a form of lymphoma. Leukaemia refers to a series of diseases that affect the blood system. In CLL, the lymph nodes are also affected, hence the name lymphoma.
In CLL, a certain type of white blood cells, the B-lymphocytes, grow uncontrollably. This increases the number of malignant B-lymphocytes and the total number of white blood cells. Over time, the malignant B-lymphocytes accumulate in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, and proliferate in the blood. Such a lymph node can then grow larger and can sometimes be felt as a painless lump, for example in the neck or groin. When the malignant B-lymphocytes accumulate in the bone marrow, there may be less room for the production of other, healthy red and white blood cells as well as platelets. A shortage of red blood cells causes anaemia and can often be recognized by increasing, abnormal fatigue. A shortage of platelets causes clotting disorders. This is manifested by spontaneous nosebleeds, bruises and haematomas that develop faster than normal. A shortage of normal, white blood cells reduces your immunity, making you more susceptible to infections4. Patients may experience night sweats, emaciation, and fatigue. CLL is the most common form of leukaemia and is diagnosed in 4 out of every 100,000 persons per year5. The disease is twice as common in men as in women, with the average age of diagnosis being between 67 and 72 years6. It is very rare in people under 30 years of age6.
Treatment from a patient perspective
CLL often goes unnoticed for a long time because the disease causes no or unclear symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms resulting from an abnormal blood count are often the first reason for a visit to the General Practitioner (GP). Usually, further blood tests are needed to find a cause for the symptoms. Often CLL has not yet been thought of. If abnormal values are found during the blood test, the GP can decide to refer the patient to a haematologist for an additional blood test. On the basis of these additional blood tests, the specialist can then make the CLL diagnosis. CLL can develop at a slow pace and the doctor may advise to wait and have it checked regularly to see how the cancer is progressing. This is called 'watch & wait' or 'wait & see'. In one third of patients with CLL, the disease evolves so slowly that they never need treatment. If the disease continues to develop, treatment is started. A treatment plan is drawn up in consultation with the patient. Patients are often supported by specialized nurses during their treatment. They provide them with information about the treatment they receive but also guide and support them during that treatment. In doing so, they pay attention to the physical aspects, but also to the emotional & social aspects that the disease or treatment can bring. Family, friends and patient associations, such as Lymfklierkanker Vereniging Vlaanderen and Action Lymphome Wallonie-Bruxelles.
Victories over cancer
Janssen has been researching various types of cancer, including blood cancer, since 1988. The ultimate goal is to turn blood cancer into a treatable or even curable disease. The patient is central in all of this. We remain committed to working towards a future in which the conversations between doctors and patients are mainly about how you can live with or after cancer. So that ultimately the words "you have blood cancer" are less invasive than they are now. Until then, we are working hard to achieve victories over cancer, big or small. We do not book these victories over cancer alone, but together with committed researchers, specialists, and patient organizations in the field of cancer.
Share your story
During the whole month of September, we will be highlighting blood cancer and the daily victories through social media. But we are also curious about your story. Will you talk along with us? Share your story!