Blood cancer turning up in young

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 December, 2011, 12:00am


The number of blood cancer cases in Hong Kong is expected to double in the next five years, especially among young people, and Queen Mary Hospital is planning key expansions to ensure it is prepared.

Professor Kwong Yok-lam, chair professor of haematology, oncology and bone marrow transplantation at the University of Hong Kong, says the number of lymphoma patients increased to more than 1,000 in 2010 from 600 in 2002. Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer, along with leukaemia and multiple myeloma.

Queen Mary Hospital, where Kwong is a specialist, is planning to expand treatment for the diseases. The number of bone marrow transplant rooms would be increased from 10 to 24 by 2016, the number of doctors on duty would double to six, and 30 more nurses would be employed, Kwong said.

The expansion would make the hospital the biggest bone marrow transplantation centre in the region, cutting waiting time from three months to one.

Kwong said he had seen people in their 20s getting lymphoma in recent years - a situation considered impossible in the past. The number of young patients with myeloma - a malignant tumour in bone marrow - has also increased dramatically, he said.

'The youngest patient [with myeloma] I have seen is in his 30s. It just wouldn't happen 10 to 20 years ago,' he said. 'And it won't be surprising if the number of blood cancer patients doubles from the current level by 2016.'

Kwong suspected the higher incidence of the cancer was the result partly of a changing environment and switch to unhealthy lifestyles. But more research would be needed to confirm the theory.

Two decades ago, 10 to 20 per cent of lymphoma patients were below the age of 60. In recent years the figure has hit 40 per cent, he said. With myeloma, half of today's patients are under 50 - up from 30 per cent in the past.

'In the future, cancer will be found in even younger people - it's very worrying,' he said.

Kwong said lymphoma in young people was more common in the West, and he suspected Hongkongers' embrace of a Western living style had contributed to the rise in the number of cases in the city.

Hong Kong sees 3,000 to 4,000 new blood cancer cases every year, with lymphoma the sixth most common cancer in the city. Blood cancer can be a result of genetic predisposition or exposure to carcinogens, and the risk of contracting it increases with age.

Kwong said the one-month wait for a bone marrow transplant could not be further shortened, because donors and patients required several forms of preparation before surgery.

Kwong said the expansion would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly due to salaries for extra staff, and funding was being discussed with the Hospital Authority.