Blood cancers to increase as population gets older

Celia Barron was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after travelling in Indonesia. Picture: Neil Hanna
Celia Barron was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after travelling in Indonesia. Picture: Neil Hanna
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CASES of the most common type of blood cancer are set to increase as Scotland’s population gets older, experts warned as campaigners increased efforts to highlight symptoms of the disease.

Lymphoma affects over 1,000 people in Scotland a year, killing almost 500, but many people remain unaware of the disease or the signs they could have it.

Consultant haematologist Dominic Culligan, based in Aberdeen, said that while lymphomas could affect all ages, their development was also linked to the ageing population, making it important people were aware of the possible symptoms so they could seek help.

Marking the start of Lymphatic Cancer Awareness Week today, the Lymphoma Association highlighted its own research which showed that half of the people they questioned had never even heard of lymphoma – cancers of the lymphatic system, which is part of immune system.

Dr Culligan said the most common type of lymphoma was Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with around 15 cases per 100,000 population, which was more likely to affect older people. The less common Hodgkin lymphoma, with about three cases per 100,000, is most common in young adults aged 18-35.

Dr Culligan said: “The incidence of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been increasing in the Western world since the 1970s, whereas the incidence for Hodgkin lymphoma seems pretty level. The main reason for that increase is the increasing age of the population.”

Population projections suggest Scotland, like other countries, faces a rapidly ageing population in the years ahead, with figures showing the proportion of people in Scotland who are aged over 75 is set to rise by 80 per cent by 2035.

Another risk factor for lymphoma is immune suppression, such as in patients who have had an organ transplant and have to take drugs to dampen their immune system to prevent rejection, and in HIV patients.

The main symptoms of lymphoma include a swollen lymph gland in the neck, armpit or groin. Dr Culligan added: “Many patients notice they have a lump and then go to their doctors. Swollen lymph nodes that are painless are more of a concern than swollen lymph nodes that are painful.

“If you have a persistent swollen gland which isn’t painful then you should seek medical attention. That is very important. The message is if you have a symptom or something which is not settling after a short time you should go to the doctor.”

Other symptoms are night time “drenching” sweats, weight loss and other side-effects depending on where the disease is found in the body.

He said GPs should also be prepared to be on the look-out for symptoms which could indicate lymphoma, but added that most were good at referring on patients in need of attention.

Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of the Lymphoma Association, said: “Although lymphoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, many people will not have heard of it until they or someone they know are diagnosed. We’re trying to change this.”

CASE STUDY

‘I put it down to travelling in a hot climate’

Celia Barron was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2004 and has since had to undergo four courses of chemotherapy.

The 67-year-old from Leith discovered a lump in her groin which at first did not worry her as she had been travelling in Indonesia and it was thought to be due to a tropical infection.

“I was feeling very well. I had lost a little weight but put it down to being in a hot climate and eating light foods,” she said.

She said being diagnosed was a shock as she knew little about the disease.

She added: “Although I knew little about it when I was diagnosed, I found the Lymphoma Association website an excellent source of information about the illness.

“My consultant advised me not to search online but use reputable sources like this.

“After ten years you learn to live around the treatment.”