If anyone is asked to describe what cancer is, chances are they’ll be able to provide at least a rough definition of the disease. Generally speaking, cancer is the name for the rapid and uncontrollable development of cells in a certain part of the body. In addition to holding a general awareness of cancer, most people could also probably share a few things about the disease; perhaps that it’s serious, that it requires intense treatment, and that it can be fatal. While all of these facts are correct, they might represent the limitations of most Americans’ knowledge about the disease. This information is certainly important to keep in mind, but there are many different types of cancer and a lot of information about these specific forms of the disease that many Americans aren’t aware of. Blood cancer, in particular, is a source of mystery for most Americans according to the results of a recent survey.
Results of the survey
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or LLS for short, is an organization that conducts research, raises awareness, and works towards finding a cure for different forms of blood cancers. Blood cancers are typically subdivided into three separate categories: leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Although the three different forms of cancer affect the body differently and have some different symptoms, they have some fundamental similarities. All three cancers originate in the blood and typically bone marrow where blood is produced. In extreme cases, all three cancers can require a blood marrow transplant in order to fully rid an individual of the condition. In addition to affecting bone marrow, blood cancers also affect blood cells, the lymph nodes, and other parts of the lymphatic system. Typically, blood cancers will cause swelling and joint pain as well as fatigue. Blood cancers can be difficult to detect early and can therefore be difficult to treat.
In order to better understand what actions should be taken in America and to work towards a positive trajectory for treatment of blood cancers, the LLS recently completed a survey measuring general awareness about this category of diseases. The results of the survey were certainly not encouraging. The survey indicated that four out of five American adults are surprised to learn that blood cancer is the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in America. Additionally, an only slightly smaller percentage of American adults indicated that they were aware that leukemia, one of the forms of blood cancer, is the most common cancer among children and adults under 20. These results themselves indicate that among American adults, there is a surprising lack of information about blood cancers.
The survey by the LLS asked additional questions that went into further detail about blood cancers. When asked to identify the different types of blood cancers, most Americans could only identify leukemia and did not know that lymphoma or myeloma were also categorized under this umbrella. The LLS went on to ask more questions about the treatment options currently available for blood cancer. About 86% of polled Americans were surprised to learn that there are currently no means of effectively preventing or screening for blood cancer. Approximately 82% of respondents were surprised to learn that most patients suffering from a form of blood cancer do not survive more than five years after the initial diagnosis.
In addition to measuring awareness about blood cancer, the survey by the LLS also attempted to measure general attitudes towards cancer. Based on their findings, the majority of Americans support allocating additional funding to the research of different treatment methods for blood cancer. About nine out of ten adults indicated that they would be interested in learning about various treatment options if diagnosed with blood cancer, and a similar number indicated that they would be interested in clinical trials if diagnosed. Finally, and perhaps most notably, a little more than half of all adults polled indicated that they believe we are on the verge of finding a cure for cancer.
The importance of surveying
The survey conducted by LLS doesn’t actually provide any new answers in the search for a cure for cancer, but it’s still important. The results of this survey provide several key points of valuable information that have the potential to affect the trajectory of cancer treatment in this country. First of all, the results indicate that the majority of Americans are still grossly uninformed when it comes to blood cancer. While this survey focused only on this form of the disease, it’s possible that this level of awareness extends to other forms of cancer as well. A lack of knowledge about cancer is a huge barrier to successful treatment. If people don’t know what signs or symptoms to look for, then they are unlikely to be diagnosed until the disease is at a later stage. At that point, the likelihood of treatment being successful diminishes greatly.
In addition to exposing the lack of awareness about blood cancer’s signs and symptoms, the survey results from LLS also indicate that most Americans are less aware than they should be about the different types of cancer that can occur. Many treatment methods that are currently being used for a wide variety of cancer types were initially approved by the FDA as treatment options for blood cancers. While we need to pay close attention to all types of cancers, we also need to be strategic in targeting our research. If blood cancers provide resources and answers that can be extrapolated to other forms of cancer, then it would be wise to devote more attention to this category.
Finally, a lack of awareness about blood cancer indicates that most Americans don’t know how to interact with the disease. While there aren’t currently any methods for preventing the disease, there are a variety of treatment options. Patients need to be aware of the treatment options that are available to them as well as the risks and success rates associated with these different methods.
Where do we go from here?
Survey results are certainly important, but they can only do so much. Information is key in the battle against cancer, but information must be accompanied by action. These survey results indicate several key steps that the research community could take. First of all, Americans should be made more aware of the different types of cancer and the specific risks and symptoms associated with each. As with any disease, awareness is key because it allows for more treatment time and empowers the patient to make more informed decisions. Secondly, continued research should be conducted into blood cancers. Considering that blood cancers are one of the most fatal forms of the disease, and the type of cancer most likely to affect young people, it makes sense that we would allocate considerable time and resources to finding a cure. Ultimately, the results indicate that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Finding a cure for cancer is nearly synonymous with the impossible. If you phrase it like that, it nearly is impossible. There are a wide variety of cancer types that affect people differently and present with different symptoms. While also cancers can be fatal, they can’t all be treated the same way, and they don’t affect patients the same. The results of the recent study conducted by the LLS indicate that Americans are still grossly unaware when it comes to blood cancer. While this may seem discouraging at first, it’s actually useful information. Cancer is a big problem, but if we keep working to solve it bit by bit, we’ll continue to make positive progress.
You can read more about the recent survey at LLS.org.