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September's Call to Action: Blood Cancer and Sickle Cell Awareness

September provides the opportunity to bring awareness to two very important topics, Blood Cancer Awareness and Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Both blood cancer and sickle cell anemia put the health and safety of Black people at risk. These campaigns shed light on conditions that affect countless lives, fostering understanding, support, and hope for a brighter, healthier future.

Did you know that blood cancers account for nearly 10% of all cancer diagnoses [1]?

By the time you listen to your favorite song, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma). It is estimated that 184,720 people in the US will be diagnosed with blood cancer in 2023 [1]. This complicated group of cancers can affect anyone, at any age. Blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, disrupt the normal production and function of blood cells, such as fighting infections or preventing clotting.


Many people aren’t aware of the symptoms because of the vague nature of the symptoms which makes it hard to spot. Early detection has a significant impact on the survival and treatment experience for patients, thus making awareness vital. Some common symptoms include:

Fatigue: Persistent and unexplained tiredness.

Unexplained Weight Loss: Significant and unintentional weight loss.

Frequent Infections: Repeated or prolonged illnesses and infections.

Fever and Night Sweats: Persistent fever and drenching night sweats.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes: Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.

Bruising and Bleeding: Easy bruising and prolonged bleeding from minor cuts.

Bone Pain: Persistent and deep bone pain.

Abdominal Discomfort: Pain or fullness in the abdomen due to an enlarged spleen or liver.

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sickle cell disease occurs in about 1 in every 365 Black or African American births in the United States [2].

While not a blood cancer, Sickle Cell is a blood disorder that everyone in the Black community should learn about, and September is designated as Sickle Cell Awareness Month.


Sickle cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder that affects the shape and function of red blood cells. Unlike healthy, round red blood cells that easily flow through blood vessels, in sickle cell anemia, these cells become rigid and take on a crescent or "sickle" shape. This structural change can lead to blockages in blood vessels, causing pain, organ damage, and a range of other health complications.


Sickle cell anemia is inherited when both parents pass on a specific gene variant known as HbS. If only one parent carries the HbS gene while the other has the normal hemoglobin gene (HbA), their child will inherit sickle cell trait (SCT), not the disease itself. SCT typically doesn't cause symptoms, but it's important to know your status since two carriers of SCT can have a child with sickle cell anemia.


Living with sickle cell anemia can present unique challenges. Individuals with the condition often experience recurrent pain crises, fatigue, anemia, and a heightened risk of infections. But it's essential to recognize the resilience of those with sickle cell anemia who continue to inspire us with their strength and determination. Their stories remind us that a fulfilling life is possible, even in the face of adversity.


In recent years, significant progress has been made in treating sickle cell anemia. New therapies, including disease-modifying medications and bone marrow transplants, have emerged, offering hope for improved outcomes and quality of life. Regular medical check-ups, pain management strategies, and a healthy lifestyle also play crucial roles in managing the condition.


How can I make an impact?

A bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, is a medical procedure used as a treatment option for both sickle cell disease and blood cancer. In this procedure, damaged or cancerous bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow or stem cells. For blood cancer patients, the goal is to replace cancerous or diseased cells with healthy ones, while for individuals with sickle cell disease, the aim is to provide them with normal red blood cell production. Before the transplant, patients may undergo chemotherapy or radiation to prepare their bodies. Once the healthy stem cells are introduced into the patient's bloodstream, they migrate to the bone marrow and begin producing normal blood cells, offering a chance for remission or cure.


The success of a transplant relies significantly on finding a compatible donor. Since tissue type is inherited, one might assume that a family member would be the ideal match. However, only around 30% of patients are fortunate enough to have a relative who is both compatible and willing to donate. This means that the remaining 70% require someone like you to step forward and provide their healthy bone marrow. It's important to note that patients from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds face greater challenges in finding a suitable match. Given that tissue types are most likely to match those of the same race and ethnicity, donors from these diverse backgrounds are incredibly valuable and desperately needed to save lives.

References:

  1. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Facts and Statistics - 2022-2023 [Internet]. Available from: https://www.lls.org/sites/default/files/2023-08/PS80_Facts_2022_2023.pdf

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sickle Cell Data & Statistics [Internet]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/data.html

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