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Director’s Letter

Battling Blood Cancers

June 29, 2012

One person in the United States dies every 10 minutes from a blood cancer – leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma.

This year more than 140,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed and more than 53,000 will die from these blood cancers, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.

The good news is the overall five-year survival rates for blood cancers have increased substantially since the 1970s. During the last Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting period (2002 to 2008), the five-year survival for leukemia and lymphoma was 55 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Survival for myeloma stood at 41 percent during the same period.

These improvements have been due in part to the advent of bone marrow and stem cell transplantation.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is proud of the comprehensive nature of our Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Program, which provides innovative, compassionate and individualized care addressing not only the medical needs of our patients and families, but their psychological and social needs as well.

First established in 1981, Vanderbilt’s BMT program has received “Center of Excellence” status from multiple prominent third party payors. In 2006, we began an initiative to perform stem cell transplants on an outpatient basis. Doing so lowers the patient’s risk of hospital-acquired infections and lowers health care costs by reducing the number of hospitalizations. Today, nearly 70 percent of the transplants performed at Vanderbilt-Ingram are done on an outpatient basis.

In this issue of Momentum, we highlight several of the unique aspects of our stem cell transplant program and related areas of research – from basic research on the most deadly leukemia (acute myeloid leukemia) to our newly established post-transplant rehabilitation program designed to help transplant patients recover quickly and maintain a good quality of life after transplant.

All of our work from the lab bench to the infusion chair, however, would be futile without the selfless acts of bone marrow and stem cell donors. Whether the donor is a relative or an anonymous donor from the far side of the world, they offer a blood cancer patient a new lease on life with the gift of their potentially life-saving stem cells.

With the number of stem cell transplants performed increasing 10 percent to 15 percent each year, the need for bone marrow/stem cell donors grows. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage readers to consider registering to be a stem cell donor. The need is great, but the rewards are even greater. To learn more about registering to be a stem cell donor, please visit the National Marrow Donor Program website at or call 1-800-MARROW2.

Our pioneering research will further improve the above-mentioned statistics and lead to earlier detection, better treatments and an increased number of blood cancer survivors. And by developing the best practices in patient care, we hope to enhance the quality of life and promote the long-term health of these survivors.


-Jennifer Pietenpol