While blood stem cell transplant is often the only lifesaving treatment option for patients with blood cancer, lack of awareness about the treatment is the greatest challenge. Due to this, it is a race against time for patients waiting to find a matching donor, said doctors.
At an event organised to mark World Blood Cancer Day by DKMS BMST Foundation India, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the fight against blood cancer, young donors and recipients along with their doctors came together on a common platform on Thursday.
Maheer was just six-years-old when he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. He got a second chance at life when he found a matching donor registered with DKMS, Dr. Sita Arjune, a doctor from Cologne, Germany. Maheer is now 14-year-old and it has been nine years since he received the transplant. He is leading a normal life now.
Another donor, Smitha Joshi, a 23-year-old pharmacology student, said she registered to donate after she saw her mother and another family friend battle cancer. “Nine months after I registered, I got a call informing me about my match. I was thrilled to know that I would be able to help a random stranger,” she said.
Sunil Bhat, Director and Clinical Lead, Paediatric Haematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation at Narayana Health, said if a genetically well-matched, young and healthy donor is available, the outcome of blood stem cell transplant is very good.
“The success rate differs with variations in patient and disease characteristics but, if done at the right time, nearly 70% of patients can be completely cured. In fact, the success rate has increased up to 80% with advancement in the conditioning regimen. Studies suggest that more than 70% of patients report good to excellent quality of life in one to four years after the transplant,” he said.
Unavailability of matching blood stem cell donors is the main challenge faced by Indian patients in need of a transplant, he said.
Patrick Paul, CEO at DKMS BMST Foundation India, said only about 30% of the patients can find a sibling match and the rest 70% depend on finding a matching unrelated donor. “According to the World Marrow Donor Association, there are over 39 million donors registered across the globe and only 0.5 million of these are from India. When someone needs a blood stem cell transplant, their odds of finding a match is much higher from among people of the same ethnicity. Hence it is very important for more Indians to step forward to register as donors so that more patients can be saved,” he said.
“The process of registration takes only five minutes. If you are aged between 18 and 50 years and in general good health, take the first step to register as a blood stem cell donor by ordering your home swab kit at www.dkms-bmst.org/register,” he added.