Make Blood Cancer Visible
Date: 
September 4, 2017

New campaign supported by Barry McGuigan launches to make people blood cancer aware

2 in 3 people in Ireland mistake blood cancer for skin cancer in new research to mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Blood cancer support charities, the Irish Cancer Society, Multiple Myeloma Ireland and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Ireland, in partnership with Janssen, launched a national campaign during Blood Cancer Awareness Month to make blood cancer visible in response to new research that shows almost two thirds (60%) of the Irish public mistake multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, for a form of skin cancer, and only 1 in 8 (12%) associate it with blood cancer.

Blood cancer is an umbrella term for cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. Most types of blood cancer are rare, life-threatening conditions with small patient populations.2 There are over 140 different types of blood cancers, which can be classified into three main groups, leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Together, they comprise nearly 10% of all cancers, with more than 1,900 people across Ireland diagnosed annually.

The study shows two thirds (67%) of people believe that there are low levels of awareness of blood cancer amongst the population because they have not heard much about it in the media. Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) claim it’s rare and doesn’t affect many people, while others incorrectly assume the low level of awareness is due to low mortality rates. The Make Blood Cancer Visible campaign, launched today by former Irish professional boxer, Barry McGuigan, aims to highlight the significance and impact of blood cancer, which 85% of respondents were surprised to learn is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death in Ireland.

"My father Pat McGuigan was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer at the age of 52. He underwent surgery in hospital, but sadly died 9 weeks later. My family and I were shocked and devastated," said Barry McGuigan. "In 1987 we were unaware of blood cancer or what it meant in terms of prognosis, treatment and survival. Today, however, there is renewed hope. There is a drive for more public awareness and education, and survival rates and quality of life for many blood cancer patients has significantly improved thanks to early diagnosis and better treatment options. Recognising the subtle signs of blood cancer is key, so take the time to educate yourself and visit your doctor if you notice anything strange".

Worryingly, almost a quarter of the Irish public say they do not know any common symptoms of blood cancer, while (36%) believe that bruising and bleeding easily and a lack of energy are the most common symptoms of blood cancer. Blood cancer symptoms vary, and can lead to a delay in patients going to their doctor. Spotting cancer early is key to successful treatment.

The common symptoms of blood cancer include:

  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Fatigue, feeling weak or breathless.
  • Bruising or bleeding easily.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes,
  • A swollen stomach or abdominal discomfort.
  • Frequent and repeated infections.
  • Fever or night sweats.

If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your GP for further investigations

Michael O’Dwyer, Professor of Haematology at NUI Galway and Blood Cancer Network Ireland Director said, “Over the past few decades, science has advanced quickly and opened doors for more precise treatment, and we have seen exciting progress in our understanding and ability to treat blood cancers. Survival rates reflect our remarkable progress in diagnosis and treatment. In Ireland, the five-year net survival for someone diagnosed with multiple myeloma, for example, has nearly doubled in the period from 1994-2013 , and continues to improve. Despite this progress, the need is still great for continued investment in clinical research and innovation in this field, but also for patients to recognize their symptoms earlier.”

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society says the Make Blood Cancer Visible campaign will engage with the general public, politicians and key decision makers during September to discuss the challenges faced by blood cancer patients nationwide. “Due to the complex, often rare nature of blood cancer, patients may at times feel overlooked and can have difficulty accessing the right support and information. We would urge anyone who is worried about blood cancer or who has received a blood cancer diagnosis to seek support. It is our hope, that by investing in research such as the collaborative Blood Cancer Network Ireland we will increase our understanding of this often invisible cancer. The Irish Cancer Society provides a specialist Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 and our website cancer.ie outlines our expert cancer information and support services that are available, including our Daffodil Centres in 13 major hospitals nationwide.”

Dr Leisha Daly, Country Director, Janssen Ireland, says. “This month, through the Make Blood Cancer Visible campaign, we will work in close collaboration with our healthcare partners to ensure that the low incidence and awareness rates of blood cancer in Ireland do not determine the level of response we have to the disease in terms of ready access to services, supports and treatments for these patients and their families. Helping them, and those who support them, to overcome the challenges they face with hope in their hearts is both our mission and our privilege.”

The Make Blood Cancer Visible campaign will host a free patient information event for people living with blood cancer on Wednesday, 27 September at 6.30pm in the Davenport Hotel on Merrion Street Lower, Dublin 2. Guest speakers will include: Eric Lowe, former CEO of Myeloma UK, a psycho-oncologist and Rachel Fox, Haematology Nurse Specialist, Beaumont Hospital. The event is open to all people living with blood cancer as well as their family, friends and carers. Read more about the event.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Help us to Make Blood Cancer Visible by sharing our patient storybook , featuring personal stories of those impacted by the disease (Irish patient story on p40), and campaign video, which will go live on all campaign partner social media sites from mid-September. Visit www.cancer.ie/bloodcancer, follow @JanssenIE, @IrishCancerSoc, @MyelomaIreland and @CLL Ireland to join our movement.