A U.S.-based campaign is kicking off this week in an attempt to reduce the rising tide of lymphoma cases in China.
The China Lymphoma Project will hold a global launch conference Tuesday evening at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego County.
The goal is to assist cancer researchers and pharmaceutical companies as well as educate the people in the world’s most populous country about the curable disease.
The project is spearheaded by Jamie Reno, a three-time survivor of stage IV lymphoma who was a journalist at Newsweek for 20 years and has written a book on lymphoma survivors that is in 10 countries as well as being in its seventh edition.
Reno first learned about the overall rise of cancer in China when he covered the 2012 Olympics in Beijing as a journalist. He read about the rise in lymphoma in 2014 in the South China Morning Post.
Reno, who also is a freelancer writer for Healthline, has brought together universities, hospitals, biotech companies, and government officials from both China and the United States under the umbrella of his project.
Cancer Crisis in China
Statistics on cancer are not easy to come by in China.
One reason is the government simply doesn’t gather that data and people in many villages either don’t receive treatment or report their disease.
According to a 2014 BBC report, China — with 1.4 billion people, roughly 20 percent of the world’s population — is home to 22 percent of the world’s new cancer cases every year and 27 percent of cancer deaths.
A United Nation agency estimates that China has 3 million new cancer diagnoses every year (compared to 1.6 million in the U.S.), and 2.2 million cancer deaths annually (compared to almost 600,000 in the U.S.).
That’s about 174 cases per 100,000 people in China (compared to 171 per 100,000 in the U.S.).
Statistics for lymphoma are even more difficult to come by.
The South China Morning Post story quoted a health bureau report that stated the number of lymphoma patients in the capital city of Beijing rose from 4.37 patients per 100,000 in 2001 to 9.13 patients per 100,000 in 2010. There are no statistics for the nation as a whole.
There seems to be no question among experts that although cancer rates are dropping in developed countries like the U.S., they are dramatically on the rise in China.
Why Is This Happening?
Experts say there are a multitude of reasons for the rise in cancer cases in China.
One is the increase in air pollution. That chiefly affects urban areas. The other is an increase in water pollution. That has a big impact on rural areas.
“China is heavily polluted,” said Li-Rong Lilly Cheng, the director of the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University. “If you are being exposed to particles that are horrible for your body then that will increase all kinds of diseases, including cancer.”
Cheng is a member of the China Lymphoma Project and has visited China several times in the past year as an ambassador for the organization.
Although there are few statistics on lymphoma in China, Cheng and others are certain the disease is on the rise because of the medical professionals and citizens she has spoken to there.
“Every single person knows someone affected by lymphoma,” she said.
Cheng added another factor is that people are living longer and that will naturally increase the number of cancer cases in a society.
Smoking is also still rampant in China. That, combined with air pollution, adds to increased rates of lung cancer and other diseases, including lymphoma.
Cheng said information on some types of cancer has improved in China, but awareness on lymphoma is still poor.
Reno agreed, saying many people who are diagnosed with lymphoma in China give up before they even get started.
“People in China, when they receive a lymphoma diagnosis, think their life is over,” Reno wrote in an open letter that was published last summer in a number of newspapers.
Poverty is another problem.
Cheng said many people, especially in rural villages, don’t have the money to go to the hospital, so they don’t get diagnosed, much less treated, for lymphoma.
“The culture for poverty has no color and no race,” she said.
Combining Forces for the Battle
To overcome all of these hurdles, the lymphoma project plans to attack China’s cancer problem on several fronts. The primary thrust will be information and education.
Reno said his group will provide the Chinese people with videos, websites, pamphlets, and counseling to increase awareness of the disease and available treatment.
They are also coordinating with biotech and pharmaceutical companies to help them make inroads in what could be a lucrative market.
One of the firms is Denovo Biopharma in San Diego. In 2014, the company acquired enzastaurin, a late-stage oncology drug, from Eli Lilly and Company. The drug achieved promising results in a phase II trial with Lilly for large B-cell lymphoma. However, it didn’t meet standards in its phase III trial.
Denovo is hoping to use its biomarkers technology to advance the treatment. A phase IIb trial is expected to begin soon.
Dr Xiangming Fang, the president of Denovo, said being part of the China Lymphoma Project makes sense for her firm.
“It naturally seems like we should be involved,” she said.
The project organizers have also reached agreement with the University of Massachusetts Department of Public Health to leverage some of their smart phone apps to reach cancer patients in China.
Reno explained there are 700 million people in China with smart phones. He said this is an “enormous market” that can be tapped into to raise awareness.
Reno has also connected with Zhizhong Li, the author of a popular blog and the author of a book on China cancer patients, to help in the campaign.
Cheng says the lymphoma project will get the ball rolling, but in the end people in China are going to have to solve this problem themselves.
“This is something the Chinese people need to take ownership of,” she said. “We can start it, but the Chinese people need to take ownership.”