Dr Robert O’Connor
Head of Research, Irish Cancer Society
Research investments and collaborative efforts aimed at improving treatment choice, public awareness is driving Irish blood cancer patients towards a more positive future.
“The situation for blood cancer patients in Ireland is improving,” says Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor. “Treatments are more effective, with fewer side effects and, as a result, patient quality of life and survival rates have improved.
“However blood cancers, which affect one in ten Irish cancer patients, are still generally serious. So, it’s vital that Ireland continues to look into effective ways to improve treatments and outcomes. To this aim, the Irish Cancer Society and Science Foundation Ireland have invested €2.2m in a new clinical research network, which will offer Irish blood cancer patients the opportunity to access the latest medicines and therapies, through their involvement in early stage clinical trials.”
More treatment options
Blood Cancer Network Ireland (BCNI) was officially launched last November by the Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Mr Damien English. It is a national initiative, partnering charity and state research efforts, and involving blood cancer researchers and clinicians from across the country.
Dr O’Connor says: “Treatments for blood cancers are often curative. But, where treatment fails and the cancer comes back, new therapies are emerging that are giving patients more options than they would have had in the past. Our involvement in research means that Irish patients have access to these new therapies, as they come down the development pathway often before they are available in other countries, and that our researchers are contributing to new international advances in cancer.”
Improving awareness and referrals
More benefits are expected from raising awareness of blood cancers generally. While most people have heard of cancers like those of the breast, lung or skin, only a minority are familiar with those of the blood and bone marrow, such as acute and chronic leukaemia, Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
“In light of this, we are hoping that our support for Blood Cancer Network Ireland will help to ensure that patients, clinicians and the general public are alert to signs and symptoms that might indicate the presence of a blood cancer. These may include unexplained tiredness and weight loss as well as night sweats or unexplained lumps, especially in the neck area, which go on for more than a few weeks. Early diagnosis can be critical to ensuring better treatment outcomes and survival. If patients are concerned, they should go and see their GP at the earliest opportunity,” explains Dr O’Connor.
“Time to treatment is another important area of improvement. We are hoping to ensure that patients understand the potential that new medicines have for helping their disease and how they can play a part in getting patients into treatment very quickly. World class research networks, like BNCI, mean that as part of that treatment, patients have access to therapies that will give them the best opportunity of thriving after their cancer diagnosis.”
A vision for the future
Overall, blood cancer patients are already experiencing benefits from improved treatments, care and support but, Dr O’Connor says, there is more to be done. “There is more to be done and public support for this work is vital as our investment in research is only made possible through the generous donations we continue to receive”.
“Ireland has some of the world’s top blood cancer researchers and specialists. Our vision for the future is to continue to bring them together, enabling them to further improve therapies and support, so that Irish blood cancer patients can have the best opportunity of a positive outcome from their treatment and care,” Dr O’Connor adds.