Cancer is a disease that touches the lives of millions of people every year. Of the estimated 1,660,290 new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States in 2013, about 9 percent are expected to be blood cancer cases that include leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) reports that more than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with or are currently in remission from blood cancers, which affect the bone marrow, blood cells and lymphatic system.

According to LLS, someone is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer about every four minutes;about every 10 minutes, someone succumbs to blood cancer. Broken down further, the numbers show their effects across age, gender and race:

  • Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents under the age of 20, yet most cases of leukemia and other blood cancers occur in older adults.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer in males and the seventh most common cancer in females in the U.S.
  • African-Americans have more than twice the incidence rate of myeloma than Caucasians.

Positive trends

Much work remains to meet the urgent need for lifesaving treatments with all types of blood cancer and to ensure access to quality care for patients. However, dramatic improvement in blood cancer treatment has greatly increased survival rates for many types of blood cancer over the years.

  • Hodgkin lymphoma patient survival rates have more than doubled since the 1960s.
  • The five-year relative survival rate (which measures cancer survival excluding other causes of death) for people with myeloma more than tripled in the past decade.
  • The five-year survival rate for acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, was 3 percent in 1964 and is at 90 percent today.

Dramatic improvement in blood cancer treatment has greatly increased survival rates for many types of blood cancer over the years

Progress in treatment

Unlike some other forms of cancer, there are currently no screening tests for early detection or established lifestyle behaviors to prevent the estimated 150,000 new blood cancer cases expected across the country in 2013. Research is ongoing to better understand causes and risk factors. The dramatic improvement in blood cancer treatment over the latter part of the 20th century was largely due to chemotherapy. It remains an important treatment for some patients, often in combination with other therapies that include radiation or stem cell transplantation. As a result of research, these therapies are safer and more effective.

Blood cancer therapies are evolving and changing the ways that patients are treated. This begins with making an accurate diagnosis of the patients exact type of leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. Clinical trials have led to the development of drugs that now target specific pathways or structures in cancer cells, and therapies that use laboratory-produced immune cells, capable of recognizing and killing cancer cells, to treat many types of blood cancer. These targeted therapies and immunotherapies generally result in less severe short-term side effects than chemotherapy.

Blood Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated each September to help raise public awareness about blood cancers everywhere. Pursuing the ultimate goal of curing leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma continues to produce an improved quality of life for blood cancer patients and their families.

Clare Karten, MS is the Senior Director of Mission Education for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. For 10 years, she has worked with the committed staff and volunteers at LLS to provide accurate and current information and resources to the blood cancer community.