Black donors urged to donate stem cells to help save those battling blood cancer

Suthentira Govender Senior reporter
Black blood cancer patients are at a distinct disadvantage due to the low number of registered donors in the database.
Black blood cancer patients are at a distinct disadvantage due to the low number of registered donors in the database.
Image: 123RF/PENCHAN PUMILA

Black blood cancer patients are at a distinct disadvantage due to the low number of registered donors in the database.

That's the word from DKMS Africa — formerly the Sunflower Fund — on the back of World Blood Cancer Day which was observed globally last Friday.

“This is why DKMS Africa urges everyone to register and help grow an ethnically-diverse registry to give patients a better chance of finding a perfect match,” said Alana James, DKMS Africa executive director.

According to Palesa Mokomele, DKMS Africa's head of marketing and communications, “traditionally there has been limited awareness and education in these communities about stem cell donation”.

“DKMS Africa's mission is to grow the numbers by working with local champions who will receive training from DKMS on how to engage their peers on the topic.”

According to a 2020 report by Bristol Myers Squibb, each year, an estimated 1.24 million blood cancer cases occur worldwide, accounting for about 6% of all cancer cases.

The organisation says that while the number of patients suffering from blood cancer is high, stem cell transplants are a viable option in helping to give them a second chance at life.

“We welcome the public to show their support by having discussions about the plight of blood cancer in our country and to register to become stem cell donors as well as inspire others to do the same,” said James.

The organisation has expanded its footprint into five continents, most recently Africa, and registered over 10.7 million donors while building one of the most diverse donor pools in the world.

Blood cancer is an umbrella term used to refer to a cancerous growth that occurs in the blood.

There are three common groups of blood cancer: leukaemia, multiple myeloma and malignant lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).

These cancers prevent the body’s blood cells from performing their normal cell functions such as oxygen transportation and defending against germs.

The symptoms associated with the different blood cancers may vary.

While some elicit pronounced symptoms such as bleeding gums or weight loss, others’ symptoms may go unnoticed or be mistaken for symptoms of something less severe, like loss of appetite or persistent fatigue.

Blood cancers like other cancerous diseases are indiscriminate, afflicting all nationalities, races, ages and genders.

“Our research reveals that globally, every 35 seconds, someone in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer. It is for this very reason that our fundamental mission remains to delete blood cancer, however, to achieve this we need all the support we can get,” said James.

“Often the best chance for survival of someone diagnosed with blood cancer is receiving a stem cell donation from a matching donor. Sadly only one in three patients tend to find a suitable blood stem cell donor within their own families.

“The rest need a genetic match outside their family. This is why we implore everyone between the ages of 18 and 55 and in general good health to register as a potential lifesaver.

“While there is a big focus on stem cell therapy it is often unclear how this has an impact on saving patients' lives.

“People suffering from blood cancer often either go for chemotherapy or radiation treatment. However, high-dose chemotherapy or radiation often also damages healthy bone marrow. The stem cell transplant aids in rebuilding the bone marrow's ability to make blood cells and in some instances can help cure the cancer,” said James.

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