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Lymphoma rates jump 37% in past decade, with further significant increase still to come

Tuesday September 15, 2020

Today is World Lymphoma Awareness Day and the Leukaemia Foundation is highlighting the rising incidence of one of Australia’s most common blood cancers.

Over the past 10 years, incidence of lymphoma have risen by 37%, leading to close to 7000 people being diagnosed with this blood cancer each year in 2020[1]. Sadly, projections also show the number of Australians diagnosed with a lymphoma will jump a further 147 per cent by 2035 – making for an extra 10,000 Australians being told they have lymphoma every year[2].

Leukaemia Foundation Acting CEO Alex Struthers said with more people being diagnosed with lymphoma every year, it is a priority for the Leukaemia Foundation to ensure that each and every person will have access to the right treatment, care and information they need to survive their blood cancer and live well with their diagnosis.

“We welcome improved diagnostics to inform new targeted treatment approaches and we strongly support emergence of innovative therapies, like CAR T-cell therapy, which is now available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for some lymphoma patients – but not all,” Ms Struthers said.

“We need better access to genetic testing and more investment in research and clinical trials in Australia to help make new cellular and immunotherapies more accessible to all people living with any one the diverse set of lymphoma cancers.”

Leukaemia Foundation research shows that less than 30% of Australians living with blood cancer have access to genetic and genomic testing to inform their diagnosis and treatment planning. It also shows that less than 20% of Australians living with this disease have participated in a clinical trial, and only 1 in 5 who want to enroll in a clinical trial have access to one[3].

Improving access to diagnostics, clinical trials and new therapies forms part of what the Blood Cancer Taskforce has been considering in their development of the first National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancer, due for release soon.

The Blood Cancer Taskforce – a unique collaboration of some of the country’s top blood cancer experts and leaders – has now delivered the National Action Plan to the Federal Government and will continue to work alongside the Government to support the launch of the Plan soon.

“The National Action Plan will be a blueprint to not only save lives, but to improve these statistics and bridge these gaps to better meet the diagnosis and treatment needs of every Australian who is told they have a blood cancer,” Ms Struthers said.

The Leukaemia Foundation will today launch two webinars to help increase awareness, celebrate breakthroughs in treatment and acknowledge what still needs to be done to conquer the disease.

Speakers will include Dr Glenn Kennedy, Executive Director of Cancer Services at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, who will present on CAR-T therapy including an overview of CAR-T and its relevance to the lymphoma patient population.

Physiotherapist and lymphoma survivor Ms Julie Allen will also present from a patient perspective and talk about the importance of exercise as treatment for lymphoma patients.

Both webinars can be accessed here.

For more information about lymphoma, and to register for the Leukaemia Foundation’s disease specific newsletter Lymphoma News, go to https://www.leukaemia.org.au/disease-information/lymphomas/

– ENDS –

What is Lymphoma?

  • There are more than 50 different sub-types of lymphoma, divided into two primary disease groups – Hodgkin lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Lymphoma is the general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of a vast network of vessels (similar to blood vessels) that branch out into all the tissues of the body.
  • These vessels contain lymph, a colourless watery fluid that carries lymphocytes, which are specialised white blood cells that fight infection.
  • There are two types of lymphocytes, B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes (also called B-cells and T-cells). These cells protect us by making antibodies and destroying harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Lymphoma originates in developing B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, which have undergone a malignant change. This means that they multiply without any proper order, forming tumours which are collections of cancer cells. These tumours cause swelling in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
  • Over time, malignant lymphocytes (called lymphoma cells) crowd out normal lymphocytes and eventually the immune system becomes weakened and can no longer function properly.

Lymphoma incidence, prevalence and mortality

  • Every day, 19 people are diagnosed with lymphoma in Australia and sadly 4 people lose their life from the disease[4]
  • Currently 6,932 are diagnosed with lymphoma each year in Australia, and more than 1,731 Australians lose their life to lymphoma each year[5].
  • The average 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with lymphoma is 76%[6].
  • The number of Australians diagnosed with lymphoma annually is expected to more than double to reach 17,171 people per year by 2035[7].
  • The number of Australians losing their life to lymphoma each year is also projected to more than double to reach 5,082 people per year by 2035[8].

Leukaemia Foundation advocacy: Lymphoma
Medicine which the Leukaemia Foundation has actively advocated for increased access to in the past year includes:

  • Ibrutinib – in both capsule and tablet form as first-line treatment of patients with small lymphocytic lymphoma
  • Polatuzumab vedotin – as treatment for relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patients who are ineligible for stem cell transplantation.
  • Acalabrutinib – for treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory small lymphocytic lymphoma not suited for treatment or second-line treatment.
  • Acalabrutinib – for use as monotherapy or in combination with obinutuzumab, for the first-line treatment of patients with small lymphocytic lymphoma who harbour a 17p deletion.
  • Pembrolizumab – as a treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
  • Venetoclax – as a combination treatment with obinutuzumab for the first-line treatment of patients with CLL who have coexisting conditions and are unsuitable for fludarabine based chemoimmunotherapy.
  • Mogamulizumab – as a treatment for relapsed or refractory cutaneous T cell lymphoma for the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory CTCL following at least one prior systemic treatment for this condition.

Leukaemia Foundation National Research Program: Lymphoma
A number of clinical trials, research grants and PhD scholarships are funded under the Leukaemia Foundation’s lymphoma program with the aim to better understand the biology and genetics of the disease, develop new and improved treatments and treatment protocols and improving quality of life for Australians living with lymphoma. These projects include:

  • Two international clinical trials funded through the Leukaemia Foundation’s Trials Enabling Program in collaboration with the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group (ALLG):
    • Hodgkin Lymphoma trial, led in Australia by Professor Mark Hertzberg, in collaboration with the German High-Grade Lymphoma Group – looking at optimisation for first -line treatment of advanced stage Hodgkin lymphoma.
    • Follicular Lymphoma trial, led in Australia by Professor Judith Trotman, in collaboration with the UK Liverpool Trials group – looking at using PET scans to determine the response to therapy and inform treatment duration in patients with previously untreated high tumour burden follicular lymphoma
  • A cancer genomics clinical trial designed to bring precision medicine to blood cancer patients who have exhausted all other therapy options, with the first phase targeting high grade B-cell lymphoma patients.
  • A series of projects across the lymphoma diagnosis and treatment spectrum through the Leukaemia Foundation’s PhD scholarship program in collaboration with the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ) and the Strategic Ecosystem Research Partnership program:
    • Development of a new class of small ‘drug-like’ molecules that kill B-cell blood cancers
    • Development of a new genetic, immune and clinical prognostic score to assess the best treatment pathway and supporting informed decision making for follicular lymphoma patients,
    • Epigenetic pre-treatment therapy to sensitise diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cells to subsequent chemotherapy.
    • Investigating the mechanism by which the tumour suppressor gene TP53 prevents the development of Leukaemia and Lymphoma
    • A series of projects and clinical trials aimed at developing new treatment approaches for blood cancers, and the prevention and treatment of Graft Versus Host Disease through the Centre for Blood Transplant and Cell Therapy.
    • Testing clinical efficiency of CAR T-cells in the treatment of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.