Matt Kaiser
Posted by
Matt Kaiser

How are we preventing blood cancers?

Matt Kaiser
Posted by
Matt Kaiser
04 Feb 2014

We've all heard the adage 'prevention is better than cure', and it's no different for cancer.

Part of World Cancer Day, organised by the Union for International Cancer Control, is looking at how cancers can be prevented. Much has been done, and will continue to be done, to raise awareness of how healthy lifestyles can help lower the risk of cancer. But there are also huge amounts of work being done in other parts of the research community to stop people getting cancer in the first place.  

Leukaemia and other blood cancers may not spring to mind when thinking of diseases that can be prevented. Unlike smoking and lung cancer or exposure to UV and skin cancer, there doesn’t seem to be a single environmental factor that radically alters the likelihood of developing a blood cancer. And although some genetic factors are at play, there aren’t individual genes that could be screened for that greatly increase someone’s risk, such as the BRCA genes for breast and ovarian cancers.

Nevertheless, there are many ways we can prevent blood cancers.

Kinder treatments & better monitoring

Treatment for some cancers, although effective, can still be very gruelling. This harsh treatment can cause damage to healthy cells and eventually lead to a second cancer. This causes around 15% of cases of acute myeloid leukaemia, affecting 375 people every year in the UK.

In other cases, leukaemias may come back after an initially successful first treatment. We and others have designed tests, based on cutting-edge molecular techniques, to detect the presence of residual rogue cells with incredible sensitivity. This monitoring reduces the number of relapses and allows for less toxic treatments to be tested.

By funding research into these groups of patients to develop kinder treatments and better monitoring, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research hope to be able to stop these cancers from happening and, if they do, to stop them coming back.

More targeted treatments

Researchers are also looking at how treatments for childhood cancer, though successful in saving more lives than ever, can be made more selective.

Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is a blood cancer that mainly affects children and young adults. The aim of chemotherapy is to kill cancerous cells but, unfortunately, a few hardy cells may be left behind. As a result, the cancer comes back in up to 40% of children after treatment.

Research funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research will help us understand ALCL better, which will mean more targeted and less toxic drugs can be developed. This is another way we can effectively stop blood cancers and let more children live a healthy life after treatment.

Nipping cancer in the bud

Many blood cancers progress from pre-cancerous diseases. Myeloma, for example, may be preceded by a largely benign condition called monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance, or MGUS — in fact, it has been estimated that all myeloma has a previous MGUS.

By understanding what drives this transformation, we can better monitor these conditions and we may be able to treat them before the cancer has a chance to develop.
 

Much has been done to advance our knowledge of cancer and get closer to the day when it will no longer have an impact on people’s lives. There is, however, still much to be done. As a start, why not get involved in one of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research’s many fundraising events – from triathlons to local bake sales – fabulous opportunities to raise vital funds for life-saving research.

 

Matt Kaiser, Head of Research

Chris West, Head of Media & Public Affairs

Comments

Anonymous
10.03.2014

My husband has CMML and it is stable, he is 60yrs old only diagnosed last october 2013 by chance due to him having asthma & OCPD and had trouble shifting his chest infection that the GP took blood samples and discovred his white blood cells were higher than normal. He has been told that there is no treatment for him, WHY?

Anonymous
10.03.2014

we are having a 60th birthday party for my husband, how do we get forms, raffles, ideas for raising funds for this type of cancer? at the party.

Anonymous
12.03.2014

Hi Ann, if you want to email your request and your address to info@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk our team will sort that out for you.
Thanks
Adam

02.04.2014

Also i would also like to share that i have lost 3 family members to leukaemia. And over the years my family and i have raised over 22,000pounds