HK Blood Cancer Foundation While new cancer treatments such as targeted therapy have been shown to help boost cure rates, they come with expensive price tags, which means that not all patients are able to afford them. In Hong Kong, the public health system provides for standard treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but does not yet stretch into funding certain new treatment methods, including targeted therapy. Patients who might benefit from these new therapies would have to either bear the cost themselves or look elsewhere for financial support. Lymphoma patients have the non-profit Hong Kong Blood Cancer Foundation (HKBCF) to turn to. One of the major goals of this organisation is to introduce and help finance new treatments for blood cancer patients who would otherwise not have access to these. Typically, a six-month treatment with monoclonal antibodies would set a lymphoma patient back HK$100,000, according to Raymond Liang, vice-chairman of the HKBCF. Professor Liang said that while it normally took about 10 years for the prices of drugs to go down to affordable levels, many patients could not wait. In order to financially assist needy patients and help fund blood cancer research, the HKBCF organises major fund-raising activities every year. It is currently soliciting contributions to its Christmas tree campaign, where donors 'buy' a Christmas tree for HK$38,000. The tree will be decorated and put on display at the Harbour City shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui together with the donors' names. In addition, the foundation has organised ad-hoc fund-raising events, such as movie premieres and a charity scarf sale, and a year ago it received a donation of HK$1million worth of medication from Roche, the drug company that produces MabThera, a monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Lymphoma is a cancer of the blood that kills nearly 200,000 people every year, yet it remains one of the most poorly understood forms of cancer. 'We are seeing about 1,000 new blood cancer patients every year in Hong Kong,' said Professor Liang. More than 600 of these were lymphoma patients and the rest leukaemia and myeloma patients, he added. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer arising from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells, is Hong Kong's 10th mostly deadly cancer, according to the Hospital Authority's 2003 data. 'Now there is effective treatment, mainly drugs and new treatment such as monoclonal antibodies, which when used in combination with chemotherapy, can improve the cure rate by about 10 per cent,' Professor Liang said. Monoclonal antibodies attach themselves to cancer cells and signal the immune system to destroy those cells. 'More than half of the lymphoma patients can now be cured,' Professor Liang added. In an effort to raise public awareness about what he calls a 'potentially fatal but potentially treatable and curable disease', the HKBCF organises a World Lymphoma Awareness Day every September 15 in conjunction with the Lymphoma Coalition, a worldwide, non-profit network organisation of lymphoma patient groups. A new worldwide survey by the Lymphoma Coalition shows that 55 per cent of people living with lymphoma had never heard of it before they were diagnosed, while 43 per cent of patients did not fully understand their diagnosis. Awareness is a critical factor in recovery because as with all cancers, early diagnosis of lymphoma is important in effecting a cure. Patients who fail to respond to chemotherapy may be considered for a bone marrow transplant. According to Professor Liang, more than 150 bone marrow transplants are carried out every year in Hong Kong, the majority of them being for blood cancer patients. In these cases patients and their families typically undergo tremendous stress. Family members were often the blood donors and potential conflict could develop within the family very early on in the process, said Professor Liang. Issues abound around family dynamics - sometimes the potential donor is not ready to be a donor and this might create ill feelings among family members; donors may become anxious about the procedure and start to have reservations. 'There is a need for a lot of explanation and counselling,' Professor Liang said. To this end, the Hong Kong Blood Cancer Foundation supports a project with the Family Institute of the University of Hong Kong, which provides family support and caters to the counselling and psychological needs of patients and their families.