New report shows significant increase in blood cancer survival

16 September 2019

A new report released this month by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) shows the biggest increases in cancer survival since the early 1990s have been for blood cancers. The report – Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019 – was developed by CCS, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, in collaboration with provincial and territorial cancer registries.

The report showed that, over a 20-year period, since the early 1990s progress in 5-year survival for the most common blood cancers outpaced all other cancers. The biggest increase in survival was for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (49% to 68%), followed by multiple myeloma (27% to 44%) and leukemia (43% to 59%).

An estimated 21,000 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with blood cancer in 2019, representing about 10% of all cancer diagnoses. The causes of blood cancers are not well understood although the recent ComPARe study showed that most blood cancers cannot be prevented.

“While we know more people are being diagnosed with cancer due to our aging and growing population, what we are seeing in terms of improvements in survival for blood cancers is remarkable,” explains Dr Leah Smith, Senior Manager of Surveillance, CCS.

Progress in survival for blood cancers has largely been the result of research that has led to improvements in precision medicine. Precision medicine takes cancer treatment to an entirely new and different level by determining treatments based on a person’s genes or other unique features of the cancer that the person has.

David Mitchell was diagnosed with advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015. After several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, he was confident he was in full remission. But the cancer returned. In 2016, his doctor told him a stem cell transplant – a form of precision medicine where healthy stem cells from bone marrow are used to replace damaged cells – was his only chance of surviving.  

“I was devastated to learn that the cancer had returned,” explains David. “Precision medicine like stem cell transplants is now an option for those of us where all the other conventional treatments have failed. It gives us hope. Thanks to the stem cell transplants I received, I will be here to watch my kids grow up.”  

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