Every year, around 38,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with blood cancer, with this condition claiming the lives of more than 15,000 people annually in Britain.
If you are feeling fatigued, experiencing night sweats or have noticed unexplained weight loss, you are displaying symptoms of what could be described as a ‘hidden’ cancer; so-named because while patients might be receiving or waiting to start treatment, they may not be displaying any obvious signs of ill health. With some 137 different types, blood cancer is the UK’s fifth most common cancer and third biggest cancer killer.
In spite of this, too many people are not aware of the prevalence of blood cancer, which one in 16 men and one in 22 women in the UK will develop at some point in their lives.
The need to raise awareness is why I was keen to establish the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancer in 2016. Since then we have held a public meeting with a Health Minister, hosted annual events to mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month, organised inquiry evidence sessions and published our first report, as well as continuing to increase membership and securing a parliamentary debate on NHS blood cancer care.
For the secretariat support they provide for the Group I am grateful to Bloodwise for their important contribution made by their staff to ensure blood cancer patients remain firmly on the political agenda.
While each of these sessions were significant steps forward, we cannot rest and simply be glad we held meetings or wrote a report. Our activity has continued throughout the year, with other MPs joining me in contacting their respective Clinical Commissioning Groups, culminating in responses being gathered to provide Bloodwise with a wider frame to view blood cancer care across the country as well as a platform to launch further engagement.
In September, Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I will be chairing the Group’s latest session on the importance of early diagnosis; we will listen and ask questions of representatives from the Royal College of Pathologists, Leukaemia Care and Myeloma UK.
A key area of our report in January was that recommendations for early diagnosis in the Cancer Strategy for England should be reviewed to ensure patients receive early and accurate diagnosis. GPs should undertake a blood test for anyone displaying one or more symptoms of blood cancer.
Engagement with the Government is vital in the quest to promote the needs of blood cancer patients. The Public Health & Primary Care Minister, Steve Brine MP, spoke sincerely on behalf of the Government in a Westminster Hall debate I secured on blood cancer care last January. One of the APPG’s report findings was that effective campaigns which increase awareness of this condition, such as Blood Cancer Awareness Month, should be expanded with wider collaborations incorporating Parliament, the Department of Health & Social Care, NHS England and industry.
While the challenges are immense, there are reasons to be positive. Over a period of almost four decades, from 1971-72 to 2010-11, 10 year survival rates for leukaemia, one of the most common groups of blood cancer, increased from seven per cent to 46 per cent. Among children, this figure has trebled to 81 per cent.
One in three people diagnosed with blood cancer through a GP referral had to see their doctor three or more times before being referred. It is a telling comparison when noting that this figure falls to one in 16 people with breast cancer, and one in four with all tumour types.
Such statistics highlight the scale of the task ahead, as well as an urgent need for Parliament, Government, NHS and the entire health sector to work together to ensure the needs of blood cancer patients are at the forefront of policy-making.
Member of Parliament for Crawley
Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancer