Blood cancer: Three symptoms often ‘dismissed and downplayed’ and it can be ‘devastating’

Blood cancer: Three symptoms often ‘dismissed and downplayed’ and it can be ‘devastating’

The signs and symptoms of blood cancer

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The charity asked participants to list what they believed were common signs of blood cancer. As well as over 56 percent of people being unable to list a single symptom, only one percent of the 2,035 adults named fever, and three percent named breathlessness.

Awareness of symptoms appears to have gone down since 2018 when the same survey found 52 percent of people were unable to name a symptom of the cancer.

Blood cancer UK were concerned that with little awareness of symptoms of the disease, new cases could be going undiagnosed after being mistaken by the public for cases of COVID-19.

“Sadly, symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss and night sweats can sometimes be dismissed or downplayed and the result can be devastating,” Kate Keightley, head of support services at Blood Cancer UK, said.

“During the height of the pandemic, we saw far fewer people being diagnosed with blood cancer, and one of the reasons for this could be that some of the symptoms of blood cancer are easily mistaken for COVID-19.”

Keightley voiced her concern over the “worry that public awareness of these signs of blood cancer continues to be so low”.

According to the charity, who are attempting to publicise signs of the disease to mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month this September, said that blood cancer symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Lumps or swellings
  • Shortness of breath
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Infections that are persistent, recurrent, or severe
  • Fever (38 °C (100 °F) or above) that is unexplained
  • Rash or itchy skin that is unexplained
  • Pain in your bone, joints, or abdominal
  • Tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep (fatigue)
  • Unusually pale complexion (pallor).

One in 19 people is diagnosed with blood cancer in their lifetime. Like with all cancers, the earlier it is caught, the more chance a patient has of a better outcome.

“Getting diagnosed as early as possible can really help improve the success of treatment for a number of types of blood cancer,” Keightley said.

“We’re concerned that the pandemic has put people off going to their GP and the impact this is having on catching cancer early.”

Keightley added: “If you have symptoms that cannot be explained and are persistent, you should urgently make an appointment with your GP. While it is unlikely to be anything serious, it’s so important to get checked out.”

Awareness symptoms other than a fever has stayed roughly the same since 2018.

Just under a third of survey respondents knew that fatigue was a common symptom, while more than one in 10 correctly identified bruising and weight loss as signs.

Recall of other common symptoms of blood cancer was even lower, with only one in five percent of respondents identifying pain, two percent citing repeated infections, and just one percent identifying lumps and night sweats.

One in 19 people will be diagnosed with blood cancer, which include leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, at some point in their lives, and they kill more people every year in the UK than either breast or prostate cancer.

According to the NHS, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, the main form of blood cancer, does not usually cause any symptoms early on and may only be picked up during a blood test carried out for another reason.

When symptoms develop, they may include:

  • Getting infections often
  • Anaemia – persistent tiredness, shortness of breath and pale skin
  • Bleeding and bruising more easily than normal
  • A high temperature
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen glands in your neck, armpits or groin
  • Swelling and discomfort in your tummy
  • Unintentional weight loss.

The NHS advises that you should visit your GP if you have any persistent or worrying symptoms. These symptoms can have causes other than cancer, but it is a good idea to get them checked out.

Blood cancer UK’s findings highlight an urgent need to raise public awareness of blood cancers and for education on the symptoms of the disease to be voiced to the public.

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