Blood cancer affects how our bodies produce blood cells and how well those cells function. Most of these cancers start in the bone marrow, the soft, sponge-like material in the center of our bones that produces the hematopoietic stem cells which become red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Blood cancer occurs when something disrupts how our bodies make these blood cells, leading the abnormal blood cells to overwhelm normal blood cell production and create a ripple effect of medical conditions.
There is no single cause of blood cancer; some are simply a replication error when a cell divides, while others may be triggered by exposure to chemicals, radiation, pesticides/herbicides. Some people may have an inherited predispostion to developing certain forms of blood cancer.
For 2023, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) estimated a combined total of 186,720 people in the United States will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma. This means that one person in the United States is diagnosed with one of these diseases every three minutes.
The LLS expects that in 2023, 57,3800 of those diagnosed will die of some form of blood cancer, that’s one person every nine minutes. Six people every hour. One hundred and fifty-eight people per day.
While these statistics may seem dire, survival rates for blood cancers have been steadily increasing over the last two decades thanks, in part, to the development of advanced treatments, including cellular and gene therapies and immunotherapies.
In the United States, blood cancer accounts for almost 10 percent of all diagnosed cancers each year. Childhood leukemia alone accounts for approximately 25.1 percent of all cancers in children.
More than1.6 million Americans are currently living with or in remission from some form of blood cancer.
There are several ways for the medical community to treat blood cancer, ranging from active surveillance without cancer-directed therapy to standard treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Treatment depends on several factors like the type of blood cancer, the age of the patient, level of cancer progression, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Because more than 100 specific types of blood cancer are recognized, having an accurate diagnosis of the exact form of cancer is critical to deciding on treatment.
One form of treatment is a transplant of peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) or bone marrow collected from a healthy donor whose tissue types matches that of the patient. This type of transplant is the only known cure for some forms of blood disease, and is often the treatment of last resort if chemo and radiation did not work. The donated cells are transplanted to patients intravenously. After entering the patient’s blood the donor's cells naturally find their way into the spongy areas within the patient's bones, and begin creating new bone marrow, blood cells, and immune cells.
Each year, approximately 18,000 people in the U.S. will need a PBSC or bone marrow transplant. Only 30 percent of patients find a matching donor within their family. The other 70 percent of patients must rely on the registry to search for a potential match.
Because so many people need a transplant, and a tissue-type match with someone else is very rare, the best way to help is by joining the registry so more donors are available. Anyone 18 to 35 years old and in general good health can join the registry by completing a cheek swab kit at an in-person drive or by ordering a kit online to be sent to your home.
Gift of Life is always seeking volunteers to help with a wide range of activities, including running donor recruitment tables at various events, making presentations about joining the registry, helping during fundraising events, and more. Student volunteers can earn community service hours. To get started, visit our Volunteer Network page.