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Group aims to raise awareness of lymphoma

Lymphoma is on the increase, say experts

(Keystone)

Switzerland is marking Worldwide Lymphoma Awareness Day with a special event to draw attention to a cancer, which kills 650 people here every year.

The Swiss Lymphoma Patients Organisation and cancer associations are holding a forum of experts and patients on Thursday to discuss this largely unknown disease.

Lymphoma is a cancer which damages the body's immune system. It is estimated to cause almost 200,000 deaths around the world each year, with approximately 350,000 new cases being diagnosed annually. In Switzerland the number of new cases is around 1,300 a year.

The international awareness day was established by the Lymphoma Coalition, a global network of patient groups, to inform the public about the cancer. It is now in its second year.

In Switzerland, the Swiss Lymphoma Patients Organisation, along with the cancer leagues in Bern, Solothurn, Aargau and the Basel area, are holding a forum at the Olten Cantonal Hospital.

Doctors will be talking about diagnosis and treatments, and the head of the patients organisation, Rosmarie Pfau, will give a talk on why it is important for sufferers to share their experiences.

Lymphoma survivor Fernando von Arb, of Swiss rock band Krokus, will be giving his personal account of his battle with cancer.

Symptoms

One of the main aims of this year's awareness day is to publicise the symptoms of lymphoma. This is especially important, says Pfau, because they are often mistaken for less serious illnesses.

"Sometimes people can have the symptoms of flu over a long period that don't go away or they have a cough, painless lymph node swellings in the neck, armpits or groin or heavy night sweats. Other symptoms are unexplainable fever, weight loss and tiredness," Pfau told swissinfo.

"These are symptoms that tell people there is something is going on in the body and that they should have a check-up at the doctor's."

If left untreated, some forms of lymphoma can be fatal within six months. But certain types of the cancer can be cured if caught at an early stage.

Pfau says another problem is that many people are unaware of the disease. "That's a frightening thing when you get diagnosed and you don't know anything about it."

Courage and hope

The awareness day is also aimed at giving courage and hope to lymphoma patients - an important part of Pfau's work at the patients' group.

Pfau is herself a sufferer, having being diagnosed with the non-Hodgkin's form of the disease in 1999. Finding that there was no support network for lymphoma patients in Switzerland, she founded the group in 2001.

Around 40 people have joined the Basel-based organisation since then, with many coming to the once-monthly meetings from the cantons of Lucerne and Zurich and even Alsace in France.

Pfau says the group shares its experiences and helps members come to terms with their diagnoses. She would like to encourage people to start up patient groups in other parts of the country.

"A patient group is not for everybody, but there should be the possibility if they want it and it should be near where they live," Pfau told swissinfo.

"What is nice about such as group is that... besides the family, it's a safe place where patients can feel accepted and understood."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

One million people are estimated to be living with lymphoma globally.
It is said to be one of the fastest growing cancer types.
The Lymphoma Coalition says approximately 350,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed annually. Almost 200,000 die of it every year.
In Switzerland 650 people die of lymphoma and 1,300 are diagnosed with the cancer each year.

end of infobox

In brief

There are 35 types of lymphoma consisting of Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

NHL is the most common form of lymphoma. It mainly affects adults, peaking at between 45 and 60 years old.

Hodgkin's disease accounts for one in five cases of lymphoma and is the easiest to cure. It's unusual in that it has two peaks: young adulthood and old age.

The Lymphoma Coalition website has put up a list of questions for people to ask their doctor, a symptom test and a quiz on lymphoma.

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