Bengaluru,May 26, 2022: Blood stem cell transplant is often the only lifesaving treatment option for patients with blood cancer. Around one-year post transplant, most patients go on to lead near normal lives. However, lack of awareness about the treatment is a big challenge in India, due to which it is a race against time for patients waiting to find a matching donor. This was stated by medical experts in Bengaluru while marking the World Blood Cancer day, in an event organized by DKMS BMST Foundation India, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against world blood cancer.
Dr. Sunil Bhat, Director & Clinical Lead, Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation, Narayana Health, Bengaluru: “If a genetically well-matched, young and healthy donor is available, the outcome of blood stem cell transplant is very good. The success rate differs with variations in patient and disease characteristics but, if done at the right time, 60-70% patients can be completely cured. In fact, the success rate has increased up to 80% with advancement in the conditioning regimen. Studies suggest that more than 70% of patients report good to excellent quality of life in 1-4 years after the transplant.”
Over the last two decades, better diagnosis and disease awareness has led to a definite increase in incidence of blood cancer in India, especially in patients belonging to lower socio-economic strata. These patients are being diagnosed at advanced stage of the disease, leading to higher morbidity and mortality. A large number of patients from underprivileged sections and remote locations go undiagnosed and the incidences are not reported.
Unavailability of matching blood stem cell donors is the main challenge faced by Indian patients in need of a transplant. Said Patrick Paul, CEO, DKMS BMST Foundation India, only about 30% of the patients can find a sibling match and the rest 70% depend on finding a matching unrelated donor. As per the World Marrow Donor Association, there are over 39 million donors registered across the globe. Only 0.5 million of these are from India. When someone needs a blood stem cell transplant, their odds of finding a match is much higher from among people of the same ethnicity. Hence it is very important for more Indians to step forward to register as donors so that more patients can be saved.”
Every year, over 70,000 people die due to blood cancer in India, even as over 1lakh new patients get diagnosed. Said Dr. Sunil Bhat: “Both malignant and non-malignant conditions can be treated with a blood stem cell transplant, including Lymphoma, Leukemia, Myeloma and Hodgkin’s diseases. Knowing the type and subtype of leukemia is important in estimating life expectancy. The 5-year survival rate for children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) has greatly increased over time and is now about 90% overall. The 5-year survival rate of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) has also increased over time and is now in the range of 65-70%. Early detection and initiation of treatment along with proper compliance from patient side will reduce both mortality and morbidity.”
Maheer found his lifesaver from Germany
Maheer, hailing from Ahmedabad, was just 6 years old when he was diagnosed with acute leukemia. He got a second chance at life when he found a matching donor registered with DKMS, Dr Sita Arjune, a medical doctor from Cologne, Germany.
It has been nine years since Maheer received the transplant. “At that time, I was very young, so I did not know what was happening, or why. There was so much anxiety, and my parents were so worried. My father told me there was an issue with my blood but that it would all be sorted. After the transplant, everyone felt much happier,” said Maheer.
Dr Sita, who was elated to have helped a patient in need, said, “As soon as I found out about the plight of Maheer, I knew I had to help. Suddenly, there was someone I could give hope to through my donation. Hope is something we all deserve.” Maheer is now 14 years old. He has managed to beat leukemia and now has the gift of a bright future to look forward to. He loves to listen to music, play with friends, travel and do research, especially in the field of medicine.
He has a very important message for people: “The only reason I am here breathing, living, speaking, is my transplant. This donation gave me my life back. What could be more beautiful than that? By donating stem cells, you could give someone a new life. So, please sign up as a potential lifesaver!
Registration takes only 5 minutes of your time. If you’re between 18 and 50 years and in general good health, take the first step to register as a blood stem cell donor by ordering your home swab kit at www.dkms-bmst.org/register.