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Blood Cancers: New Treatments Mean More Survivors, New Support Needs

By Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger
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Your chances of dying from a blood cancer are going down. There are now nearly one million blood cancer survivors among the 12 million cancer survivors in the United States, a sign of the remarkable progress that’s being made in treatment. These include the leukemias, lymphoma, myeloma and myelodysplastic syndromes - all cancers that originate in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues.

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), they’re considered related cancers because all involve the uncontrolled growth of cells with similar functions and origins. The diseases result from an acquired genetic injury to the DNA of a single cell, which becomes abnormal (malignant) and multiplies continuously. The accumulation of malignant cells interferes with the body's production of healthy blood cells.

Survival improvement rates are due to improved therapies, new forms of treatment and the advent of stem cell transplantation. While the figures vary, clinical reports today show that more than 75 percent of children with acute leukemia and nearly 80 percent of patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma are being cured today. Even patients with diseases resistant to treatment, such as myeloma, are benefiting from new drugs that are increasing the rate and duration of remissions.

While the advances in treatment and improved survival rates are welcome changes, not all trends are positive, according to the National Cancer Institute. While the Cancer Trends Progress Report 2009-2010 Update shows that new incidences of many types of cancer are doing down, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are among the small subset of cancers with the fastest increased incidence rates.

Every four minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer and an estimated 137,260 people in the United States will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2010. New cases of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma will account for nine percent of the 1,529,560 new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States this year. (Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma Facts 2010-2011, LLS)

Most of the general public associates blood cancers with the fatality rates of the past, and it’s important to recognize that today early detection and treatment will increase the patient’s chances of survival. More than 50 different drugs are now used to treat people with blood cancers and potential new therapies are under study in clinical trials. Many of the most significant advances have been made in the past ten years. Several important new drugs, as well as new uses for established drugs, are improving cure and remission rates for many. There are also several new classes of drugs used today, with different mechanisms of action. These are often combined with chemotherapy but are sometimes used alone. Some types and stages of blood cancer are also treated with radiation therapy. In addition, new therapies, such as immunotherapy and stem cell transplantation, are making a difference today.

While new treatments are increasing survival rates, patients still face ongoing medical needs and risks. It’s important that follow up care and support continue. Many resources are available, here are some key ones:

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: www.LLS.org

The LLS website is a key resource for information about blood cancers and its Information Resource Center (IRC) is a call center staffed by master's level social workers, nurses and health educators who provide information, support and resources to patients and their families and caregivers. IRC information specialists are available at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network: http://www.nccn.com

The NCCN consumer website was developed to educate patients with cancer to engage in more informed conversations with health care providers so they can live longer and better quality lives. This website helps patients, families, friends and cancer survivors. The site is affiliated with 21 leading cancer centers.

Wellness Community: http://www.thewellnesscommunity.org/

Non-profit organization providing free emotional support, education and hope for people with cancer, cancer survivors and their loved ones.

National Cancer Institute: Facing Forward Series

Life After Cancer Treatment

Ways You Can Make A Difference In Cancer Treatment http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/make-a-difference/

When Someone You Love Has Completed Cancer Treatment: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/Facing-Forward-When-Someone-You-Love-Has-Completed-Cancer-Treatment/

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.