Lifeline for leukaemia patients

2015-10-08 06:00

THIS month South Africa focuses on breast and other cancers. This complex group of conditions is responsible for many deaths and a significant degree of illness in the country: About one in six men and one in six women will develop cancer during their lifetime.

Cancers of the blood – including a variety of leukaemia – are common, and feature as the top type of cancer among South African children up to the age of 19.

Most of these patients will need blood transfusion as part of their treatment, so the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is urging the nation to keep in mind the importance of having a sufficient supply of safe blood.

“Give often, give generously as it is not just the thousands of leukaemia cancer patients who need your gift of life, patients of other terminal diseases, gynaecological complications and accident victims are also among those who need blood transfusions,” says Vanessa Raju, SANBS communications manager.

“Blood is a unique medical resource – unlike other products, it cannot be manufactured in a laboratory or a factory – it comes from us.”

In leukaemia, cancerous cells are found throughout the body, in the blood or in bone marrow.

There is no tumour or growth, making it sometimes difficult to detect and diagnose.

Patients experience different symptoms which vary in combination and severity - general weakness and feeling of tiredness, frequent infections, bruising or bleeding easily, blood in urine or stools, or pain in the bones or joints.

“As leukaemia attacks the body’s blood supply and interferes with normal production of blood cells – red, white and plasma cells – it is common for patients to be insufficient in red blood cells and develop anaemia, or have too few of other kinds of blood cells.

“These developments make patients feel tired, breathless or be more prone to infections. Treatment requires boosting blood counts with healthy donated cells in the form of blood transfusions,” says Raju.

Raju says that many people with leukaemia often come to think of transfusions as a lifeline – fresh blood invigorates them, and with new energy they feel enabled to keep up with severe demands of treatment and to maintain hope of defeating the cancer.

Raju says that concern about cancer is an important reason to donate blood as most people know someone who has cancer. - Supplied

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