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Thousands of patients in India missing out on lifesaving treatment for blood cancer

Our Bureau, Mumbai
Thursday, May 26, 2022, 17:10 Hrs  [IST]

In India, blood cancer has been among one of the most common causes of death with an incidence of over 1 lakh people being diagnosed every year with a form of blood cancer such as lymphoma, leukaemia and multiple myeloma.  However, this is likely to be a gross underestimate because many cases from underprivileged sections and remote locations go undiagnosed.
Blood cancer occurs when abnormal blood cells in the blood-forming system multiply uncontrollably, crowding out the healthy cells.  A blood stem cell transplant is often the only lifesaving treatment option available for blood cancer patients. The success of a stem cell transplant depends on finding an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) matched donor. The success rates can be very different due to variations in patient and disease characteristics but if done at the right time, 60-70 per cent patients can be saved. After about one-year post the transplant, most of the patients can lead near normal lives.
“The percentage of people who know about this life saving treatment modality is abysmal.  When someone needs a stem cell transplant, their odds of finding a matching blood stem cell donor are more amongst people of similar ethnicity. Only 30 per cent of people are able to find a matching donor in their family and the rest 70 per cent depend on unrelated donors. There are countries where these programs run very successfully. In Germany for example 25 per cent of the eligible population is entered in their donor registry, compared to only 0.04 per cent of the Indian population registered as donors,” said Dr Esha Kaul, associate director – haematology and BMT, Max Hospital, Delhi.
DKMS BMST Foundation India, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and other blood disorders, such as thalassemia and aplastic anaemia, has a mission to give every blood cancer and blood disorder patient in need with a second chance at life.
Marking World Blood Cancer Day, Patrick Paul, CEO, DKMS BMST Foundation India said, every year 28th May is observed to raise awareness and show support for blood cancer patients around the world. In India, the disease burden is too high and it is the need of the hour that stem cell transplants are made available to more patients to save lives. But due to the misconceptions and lack of awareness about blood stem cell donation, Indians are highly underrepresented in the global donor pool. This situation can only be changed by recruiting many more potential stem cell donors from the Indian ethnicity.”
The success of a stem cell transplant depends on the donor's HLA  matching the patient. The body’s immune system has proteins known as HLA to distinguish cells that belong to the body from those that do not. DKMS-BMST helps in unrelated donor transplant process which includes enrolling and counselling the donors, get their HLA typing done, facilitate search of the donors and later facilitate the blood stem cell collection and the transplant. So far DKMS-BMST has registered over 60,000 potential donors and have helped 60 patients with a second chance at life.
Any healthy Indian citizen between 18-50 years can register as a potential blood stem cell donor. Registration is a simple process where all you need to do is to register through the online portal: www.dkms-bmst.org/register and you will receive a DIY home swab kit. Once you get the kit, you have to take a cheek swab sample, fill the given consent form and return it to the registry. A specialized laboratory will then analyse your HLA (tissue type) and your details will be available in the global search for blood stem cell donors.
When you’re found to be a match, you will be contacted by the registry. If you are medically cleared to donate, and willing to proceed with the donation, you will be asked to donate blood stem cells via peripheral blood stem cell collection process (PBSC). This process is similar to a blood platelet donation. Your donated blood stem cells will be transported to the patient and will be infused into the patient. These new blood stem cells begin to increase in numbers and produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, resulting in the replacement of the patient’s diseased cells.
India is witnessing a massive surge in the number of blood cancer patients, in addition to acute leukaemia and lymphomas, the doctors are also seeing increasing recognition of cancers such as multiple myeloma and chronic leukaemia due to better diagnostic capabilities and timely referral from other specialities such as nephrology, orthopaedics and general medicine. Patients presenting with unexplained kidney failure and pathological fractures for example are being screened for multiple myeloma making it more evident how prevalent this disorder is in India.
Talking about the treatment in children suffering from blood cancer, Dr. Esha added, “Fortunately, outcomes with proper treatment protocols in childhood blood cancer are excellent. There is no reason for dismay or hopelessness. With modern treatments, 80-90 per cent of children with childhood cancers can be treated.”
To ensure each blood cancer patient looking for a matching donor finds one, it is important that more Indians register as a potential blood stem cell donor.


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