Friday, March 5, 2010

On the rise.

The 4th of February 2010 was World Cancer Day. There was huge pick up globally on this in the media, with much of the attention on prevention of cancer focusing on vaccines and lifestyle, and good progress in the understanding and fight against cancer.

Around the same time in New Zealand the Ministry of Health released a report on cancer projections to 2016. The very good news from this report is the stabilisation in the incidence of many cancers in New Zealand. But the bad news, is the lack of change in blood cancer numbers, which along with thyroid cancer, were singled out as showing a projected steady rise in incidence. This is particularly evident for lymphoma, a cancer of lymph nodes, where the projected increase is greater than 10% over the next ten years.

Investment in research, along with better quality and more timely data capture has led to major improvements in understanding of many cancers and correspondingly, this has lead to prevention messages and treatment advances.

It is clear, however, that more research and resources need to be invested in the study and treatment of blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma where causes are less clearly understood. Until the disease is better understood and the causes identified we cannot work on messages for prevention. Screening in lymphoma is not useful, further highlighting the need for lymphoma awareness campaigns targeted at GPs and the general public.

To compound the issue there is a woeful lack of accurate data on lymphoma in New Zealand. The New Zealand Cancer Registry data is running five years behind and then only capturing incidence and mortality data and nothing in between. Also, there are discrepancies in lymphoma data capture with different classifications in use between the reporting hospitals who are using the latest WHO classifications and the New Zealand Cancer Registry which are not.

Because blood cancers have not been on the radar of decision makers there are many downstream effects on patients and their families, including, a lack of sufficient bone marrow transplant facilities, a lack of timely funding for new medicines, and limited access to modern imaging technology such as PET scanning in the public sector. Put in perspective, more New Zealanders die of lymphoma alone than melanoma!

We are serious about raising awareness so this gets taken seriously and more resources are allocated for the battle against lymphoma.

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