HEALTH

Doctors warn of lymphoma, a growing cancer that's little known in mainland China

Push to raise awareness of lymphoma, blood disorder that's often curable

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 October, 2014, 6:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 October, 2014, 6:03am

It's rare but growing and there's almost no public awareness of it.

Lymphoma is an uncommon type of blood cancer that occurs when an error in the production of infection-fighting white blood cells generates abnormal cells.

It's so rare that it's often misdiagnosed, but its incidence is thought to be on the rise on the mainland. On top of that, doctors say there's a lack of official effort to help patients cope with the high cost of treating what is often a curable disease.

Dr Zhu Jun, director of the Beijing Cancer Hospital's lymphoma department, said his institute's research indicated that the afflicted population had risen by over 6 per cent each year.

Although there are no national statistics on caseloads, mainland experts say the disease is already among the top 10 cancers on the mainland in terms of patient numbers. This is mainly due to improvements in diagnosis as well as the greying population and pollution.

A white paper from the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau two years ago showed that the population of lymphoma patients in the capital more than doubled from 4.37 per 100,000 in 2001 to 9.13 for every 100,000 people in 2010. Statistics are not available on a national level.

But lymphoma is "one of the few cancers that can be cured", Zhu said. There are 70 sub-types of lymphoma, which are classified into two main types: Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's (NHL).

On the mainland, up to 85 per cent of Hodgkin's patients can be cured. And NHL patients' recovery rate is about 60 per cent.

However, even among doctors, knowledge of lymphoma had been at times sketchy, Zhu said. So he and other leading experts are training doctors on effective treatment methods.

Li Xiaoqiu, a blood pathologist from the Shanghai Cancer Centre, said 60 per cent of his patients were from outside Shanghai and doctors in their hometowns could not even confirm if they had lymphoma.

Medication is also expensive, so experts hope the public medical insurance authorities will cover foreign lymphoma drugs that have been proven effective.

That lack of coverage can affect on patient outcomes, Zhu said.

"With only the domestic drugs or those covered by medical insurance, I think the treatment result is a bit worse than [that for] foreign ones," he said.