Blood cancers are collectively the third largest cause of cancer mortality in the UK. Leukaemia and lymphoma represent the most common blood cancers that occur in younger patients.
There are two main types of lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Both are cancers of the lymphatic system and usually present as swelling of the lymph nodes. Almost 12,000 cases of NHL are diagnosed in the UK each year, making it the 5th most common cancer. The incidence of the disease has more than doubled since 1975. HL is much rarer with almost 2,000 new cases in the UK each year.
Leukaemias can be acute or chronic and arise from the myeloid or lymphoid lineage. The treatment of chronic myeloid leukamia (CML) has been revolutionised by the use of agents such as Imatinib that target the molecular basis of the disease and this has become the paradigm to develop novel targeted agents for all leukaemias.
Although there has been significant progress, such that some are now curable, the outcome can be dismal for those patients who do not respond to standard therapy. Work remains to be done to understand the molecular basis for lymphoma, leukaemia and myeloma, to identify targets for novel targeted therapies and to identify biomarkers of prognosis and response to treatment.