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In the United States, there are approximately 1.2 million people who are living with a blood cancer. These include leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma. Many of these have higher chances at survival, thanks in part to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. However, while the 5-year survival rates have increased dramatically over the past years, there is still a long way to go until doctors and researchers can cure and prevent these cancers.

What is Leukemia?

The earliest form of leukemia was first observed in 1827, and described in further detail in 1845 by Rudolf Virchow after observing a blood sample. He recognized that the white blood cells were a considerable larger amount than normal. Since then, the presence and recognition of leukemia has increased exponentially, and many scientists have dedicated hours, months, even years of research and study in order to understand it and, hopefully, lead to a cure.

Leukemia occurs when a large amount of underdeveloped white blood cells enter the blood stream, as observed by Virchow. It generally begins in the bone marrow, and the count of normal blood cells typically decreases, causing fatigue, bruising, and a susceptibility to contracting infections, among other things.

There are two main categories of leukemia- acute and chronic, with each category containing different types. Leukemia is the number one forming cancer in children, but with successful recognition and treatment, a child has the odds for him/her as the five-year survival rates are between 60-85%. In some cases, if the child is cancer free for an extended period of time, it is highly likely that child will remain cancer-free.

The survival rate for adults is slightly less, averaging at 57%. Overall there are 9 different types of Leukemia:

-          Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

-          Acute Myeloid Leukemia

-          Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

-          Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

-          Hairy Cell Leukemia

-          Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia

-          Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia

-          Large Granular Lymphocytic Leukemia

-          Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm

What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma was first discovered by Thomas Hodgkin when he studied seven patients who had enlarged, yet painless lymph nodes. Hodgkin’s lymphoma would become the eponymous name for this first type discovered. About 40 years later, scientists would begin recognizing other forms of lymphoma, which are commonly referred to as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While Hodgkin lymphoma actually responds well to treatment and has seen the most successful elimination to date, it only accounts to 10% of all lymphomas.

Lymphoma, broadly classified, is any blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. Generally, a group of blood cell tumors will develop in lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell found in the lymph. Each cancer is classified by many different characteristics, such as what type of cell is involved (B cell, T cell, or NK cell) or, in Hodgkin’s case, the presence of the Reed-Sternberg cell. The five-year survival rate can vary from anywhere between 62% and 82% depending on stage of the cancer at diagnosis.  

What is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society?

LLS began its infantile stages in 1949, then named The Leukemia Society, but still encompassed all blood cancers within its mission. It was established by a family by the name de Villiers, who had lost their teenage son to leukemia five years earlier. The very next year the Jimmy Fund was set up to help aid in the financial aspects for the society to achieve its objectives. In the following years many prevalent doctors and researchers would leave their indelible mark on the journey for a cure to blood cancers, including experiments in chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and further identification of biological components such as molecular pathways, etc.

In the 1990s, the FDA gave approval for the advancement of blood cancer treating drugs following the discovery of genetic pathways. For several years following and until current day, the LLS has been instrumental in providing funding for doctors who have discovered drugs such as imatinib (Gleevec), rituxan, and lenalidomide (Revlimid). Advances have also been made for immunotherapy, including one process that, in the trial run, was effective on 36 of 39 children.

LLS remains sanguine through an ever changing society as uncontrollable outside sources such as politics and rising healthcare costs threaten to stymie any progress made. Their goal is summed up judiciously in their precise mission statement: [to] cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. The society raises funds through a vast network of resources and events, and they continue to make advancements in research that will ultimately save many more lives.

What is Light the Night?

Light the Night is a walk held annually to raise awareness and funds for blood cancer research and LL S. These are held regionally and are organized through local chapters. Every year millions from all over the United States gather up to light lanterns in recognition of the nefarious blood cancers and the need to eradicate them. To walk, a person can sign up as an individual, as part of a corporate team, or a family/friend team. This year, the annual Light the Night walk will be held at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown on Saturday, October 7th at 5:30 pm. You can find more information here.

Categories: Community Events, Other

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