More than half of UK adults can’t name single symptom of blood cancer

Eden Taylor-Draper's sister discusses blood cancer symptoms

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That is according to charity Blood Cancer UK who ran a poll of 2,230 Britons to mark the beginning of September and Blood Cancer Awareness month. As part of this survey, they asked those they surveyed if they knew any of the symptoms of the disease.

To their great surprise over half, 55 percent, said they didn’t know any of the signs of blood while 25 percent said they would be unlikely to consult their GP on the matter even if they had the main symptoms of the condition.

The main symptoms of leukaemia include:
• Fatigue
• Bruising
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Night sweats.

As some of these symptoms can also be experienced as a result of COVID-19, the charity is concerned that people may confuse the two and that cases will be missed.

In response to the survey results, head of support services at Blood Cancer UK Kate Keightley said: “Blood cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK so it’s extremely concerning to continue to see such low public awareness of the symptoms. Sadly, symptoms such as night sweats and unexplained tiredness, weight loss and bruising can sometimes be dismissed or downplayed, with devastating results.”

Keightley added: “We fear many people might also be confusing breathlessness, a fever and tiredness with COVID-19 and cases are being left undiagnosed. At the moment, we know that too many people are being diagnosed late, which often reduces the chance of survival, so it is so vital people get symptoms checked out as soon as possible.”

Keightley’s note is an important one, if people miss the main symptoms of blood cancer and are diagnosed at a late stage of the disease or after it has spread, then treatment options can be extremely limited and likelihood of long-term survival greatly reduced.

She subsequently said: “If you have symptoms that cannot be explained and are persistent, you should urgently make an appointment with your GP.”

While night sweats, unexplained tiredness, weight loss, bruising are the main symptoms of leukaemia, they aren’t the only symptoms which can arise.

According to the NHS, other symptoms which can occur include:
• Skin looking pale
• Breathlessness
• Sweating a lot
• Losing weight without trying to
• Frequent infections
• Unusual and frequent bleeding
• Flat red or purple spots on the skin
• Bone and joint pain
• A feeling of fullness or discomfort in the tummy
• Swollen glands in the neck, armpit, or groin which may be sore to the touch.

It is recommended by the NHS to seek medical attention “if you or your child have the symptoms of AML”; this is also known as acute myeloid leukaemia, one form of blood cancer.

While these symptoms may cause concern, the NHS cautions: “Although it’s highly unlikely that AML is the cause, these symptoms need to be investigated and treated promptly.”

How is blood cancer caused?

Like all cancers, blood cancer is caused by a mutation in the cells; in this case it is caused by a mutation of stem cells in the bone marrow where the red blood cells are produced alongside white blood cells, and platelets.

The mutations cause the stem cells to produce more white blood cells than the body needs and at a point when they have not fully developed. As a result, these white blood cells dominate the space and the number of red blood cells and platelets reduces.

Normally, it is this imbalance that traditionally causes the symptoms of leukaemia and indicates the presence of cancer.

Furthermore, there are a number of risk factors which can increase the likelihood of blood cancer developing including exposure to noxious chemicals, smoking, previous cancer treatment, genetic disorders and blood disorders.

Does treatment for blood cancer have any side effects?

Treatment for blood cancer will depend on what stage the cancer is at and how fit each patient is. The fitter they are, the better able they will be to withstand the treatment administered.

One side effect of the treatment is a weakened immune system; this means the body is less able to protect itself against viruses which an uninhibited immune system would be able to protect against.

This means in some cases that blood cancer patients can’t produce antibodies either naturally or from vaccines such as those used to protect the public against COVID-19.

As a result, many have had to shield since the beginning of the pandemic as their bodies do not have the viral defences capable of blocking the viral threat in front of them.

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