Learn about blood cancers this Lymphoma Month

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Lymphoma is a blood cancer that targets the lymphatic system, the body’s disease-fighting network[1]. World Lymphoma Awareness Day (WLAD) is observed annually on 15 September. It was initiated in 2004 by the Lymphoma Coalition and its patient group members. WLAD is an important calendar date for building awareness, galvanising support and raising funds to combat the threat of lymphomas[2].

The robust, “We Can’t Wait”, is 2022’s WLAD slogan, emphasising the urgent need to improve the ways lymphomas are diagnosed, treated and tracked[3]. This year will also unpack the myriad of ways that the Covid-19 pandemic affected people living with lymphomas. “This includes delayed access to treatment and care, hesitancy in seeking medical care, delays in diagnosis and an increased mental health burden on people living with lymphoma and caregivers”[4], explains Dr Kgothatso Motumi, head of market access and public policy at Roche Pharma South Africa.

Lymphoma is the most common blood cancer

According to the published article by EA Rogena · 2011 on the trends of lymphomas in the equatorial belt of Africa, states that, “lymphomas represent one of the most frequent cancer types in Africa[5] and approximately 30,000 non-Hodgkin lymphomas occur in that region each year and these tumours are in among the top-ten cancers in this geographical region[6]“.

The 2019 National Cancer Registry (NCR) report, which is the most recently published official statistics, lists NHL as the fourth most reported invasive cancer afflicting South Africans[7], highlighting the seriousness of this disease. Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL), previously called Hodgkin’s disease, and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) are two of the major categories under which lymphomas fall into[8].

There are more than 60 NHL subtypes, although some are quite rare[9]. Ongoing research is providing a deeper understanding of the different types of lymphomas, however, knowledge gaps remain. Improved tracking and monitoring of subtypes will uncover more insights on disease prevalence and outcomes to further improve patient care.2

“Roche will continue to address unmet medical needs through excellence in science and developing medicines and diagnostics that will help patients live longer and better lives. Having the opportunity to hear directly from those affected by lymphoma helps to remind us at Roche to continuously prioritise the individual, and reinforces the importance of holistic care,” adds Dr Motumi.

Signs and symptoms of lymphoma

Early detection of cancer is one of the most decisive factors that contribute to increasing the chances of successful treatment. Early diagnosis and screening are the two components of early cancer detection[10]. What compounds the threat of lymphomas is that there are currently no screening tests for the disease[11].

“Another challenge is that because lymphoma symptoms are also associated with common illnesses like influenza or viral infections, patients tend to overlook their symptoms and many delay consulting a medical professional11. Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms persistently should seek medical attention,” urges Dr Motumi.

Common signs and symptoms include:11

  • Swelling of lymph nodes, often painless
  • Chills or temperature swings
  • Recurrent fever
  • Excessive sweating, often at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent tiredness and lack of energy
  • Breathlessness and coughing
  • Persistent itch all over the body without an apparent cause or rash
  • General fatigue
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Headache

“It is not only critical to increase awareness of the disease but to highlight the needs of the lymphoma community to ensure the best treatment and outcomes for patients and continued progress through research.

“We greatly value collaborations with patient groups, who generously offer their experience, expertise and perspective as we work together to improve patient’s lives in communities in dire need of cancer health services across Africa,” concludes Dr Motumi.

[1] Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20352638#:%7E:text=Lymphoma%20is%20a%20cancer%20of,other%20organs%20throughout%20the%20body Last accessed Sept 2022

[2] Available at https://lymphomacoalition.org/world-lymphoma-awareness-day/ . Last accessed Sept 2022

[3] Available at https://lymphomacoalition.org/world-lymphoma-awareness-day/. Last accessed Sept 2022

[4] Available at https://lymphomacoalition.org/we-cant-wait-to-address-the-ways-the-pandemic-has-affected-people-living-with-lymphomas/. Last accessed Sept 2022

[5] Rogena E et al. Haematological Oncology. 2011 29(3):111-5. Available at           https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51647197_A_review_of_the_trends_of_lymphomas_in_the_equatorial_belt_of_Africa  Last accessed Sept 2022

[6]  Rogena E et al. Haematological Oncology. 2011 29(3):111-5. Available at

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51647197_A_review_of_the_trends_of_lymphomas_in_the_equatorial_belt_of_Africa. Last accessed Sept 2022

[7] Available at https://cansa.org.za/south-african-cancer-statistics/ Last accessed Sept 2022

[8] Available at https://cansa.org.za/files/2021/03/Fact-Sheet-on-Hodgkins-Lymphoma-NCR-2017-web-March-2021.pdf Last accessed Sept 2022

[9] Available at  https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/lymphoma-non-hodgkin/subtypes Last accessed Sept 202

[10]Available at https://www.who.int/europe/news-room/fact-sheets/item/cancer-screening-and-early-detection-of-cancer. Last accessed Sept 2022

[11] Available at https://lymphomacoalition.org/signs-symptoms/. Last accessed Sept 2022