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Killer cancer flies under the radar

Media release

13 September 2012

Killer cancer flies under the radar

World Lymphoma Awareness Day calls for greater awareness for the disease that is more common than leukaemia and as deadly as melanoma.

New Zealanders are being urged to brush up on the symptoms of the cancer that kills around 300 Kiwis each year. As part of World Lymphoma Awareness Day, Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand (LBC) is calling for greater awareness of the symptoms of lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. Despite being more common than leukaemia, the most common cancer in 15-24 year olds and killing as many Kiwis each year as melanoma, nine out of every 10 patients know little about the disease before contracting it and don’t connect their symptoms to it.

Pru Etcheverry, CEO of LBC, says it is concerning that so few New Zealanders recognise the signs of a disease that affects 900 people each year.

“Raising awareness of lymphoma is challenging. It’s a cancer that’s not on the radar of most New Zealanders. There are many reasons for this – it’s difficult to explain and understand, and it is also difficult to diagnose as the symptoms of lymphoma are very similar to those found in many other conditions. The key thing is the persistence of the symptoms.”

Causes of lymphoma remain unclear but, if diagnosed early, some types can be cured with modern treatment such as radiation, chemotherapy and in some cases a bone marrow transplant.

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As part of World Lymphoma Awareness Day this Saturday, a video is being launched calling for further awareness about the disease and its symptoms. The video will be fronted by television news presenter Hilary Barry and comedian Jeremy Corbett. Both are long-standing supporters of the cause.

“We’re really hoping Kiwis will get in behind the drive to help publicise this relatively unknown cancer and its symptoms,” says Hilary Barry, who had a close friend diagnosed with blood cancer.

“Any disease that either goes unnoticed or is misdiagnosed so frequently really needs to be red-flagged so we can all start working together to reduce its impact.”

“Increasing education and awareness of lymphoma is critical when dealing with a complicated cancer like lymphoma,” says Dr. Laurie Sehn, Chair of the Medical Advisory Board for the Lymphoma Coalition (global patient network).

“People must understand that any ongoing symptom may not be normal and they need to be persistent with their concerns when speaking to their doctor.”

The World Health Organisation recognises more than 40 different sub-types of lymphoma but there are two main sub-types; Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. The symptoms of both include swollen lymph nodes, regular and frequent fevers, unexplained weight loss, severe night sweats, generalised itching, and a persistent fatigue and lack of energy.

Eighty five percent of people diagnosed in New Zealand have non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This is one of the fastest growing cancers worldwide and has increased in incidence by 80 percent since the early 1970s. It’s more common in people over the age of 50. Hodgkin lymphoma is less common, and generally affects adolescents and young adults. A third of all cases in New Zealand are diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 30.

The video supporting World Lymphoma Awareness Day also features: Richard Kahui; Ian Jones; Alix Bushnell; the ‘Mad Butcher’ Sir Peter Leitch; Sara Tetro; Jay-Jay, Mike and Dom from The Edge Morning Madhouse; Sharyn Wakefield; Megan Slovak; K’Lee and Wais Guy Wairangi Koopu from Mai Mornings; Jesse Mulligan; Urzila Carlson; Brett McGregor; Leigh Hart; Shavaughn Ruakere; Jacqueline Nairn; Carly Binding; James Rigden; Simon McKinney; and Francis Hooper, along with a number of lymphoma patients.

Fact sheet attached. For further information, please visit www.lymphoma.org.nz.

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