Blood cancer: Symptoms explained by healthcare professionals
Blood cancers include lymphomas, leukaemia and multiple myeloma. Leukaemia is cancer of white blood cells which originates in the bone marrow.
Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, and multiple myeloma originates in bone marrow and affects plasma cells.
According to Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, many people don’t realise that blood cancers are common.
She said: “They cause more deaths every year in the UK than breast or prostate cancer.
“Over 40,000 blood cancers are diagnosed every year in the UK, and 250,000 people are currently living with the disease.”
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Like many cancers, blood cancer is often diagnosed late, said Dr Lee, which lowers the prognosis.
She said: “Around 30 percent of blood cancers are diagnosed via an emergency admission to hospital. 40 percent of these will live five years, as opposed to 77 percent if the condition is diagnosed by the GP.
“In general, there is a low awareness of blood cancers in the population. This means people are uncertain of the presenting symptoms and unsure when to go for help.”
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The early symptoms of blood cancer are often vague and non-specific.
Dr Lee said anaemia and low platelets cause some of these symptoms and signs:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Bruising easily
- Lumps and swellings – due to enlarged lymph nodes
- Drenching sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Recurrent or persistent infections
- Looking pale
- Skin rashes and itchy skin
Without treatment, the blood cancer becomes advanced, meaning the blood, lymphatics and bone marrow are full of poorly functioning types of blood cells.
When this happens, other symptoms may occur. Dr Lee explained: “Bone marrow deposits can occur causing bone pain. Anaemia worsens, causing breathlessness and chest pain. Poor immune function increases susceptibility to any kind of infection and the sufferer is at risk of pneumonia and sepsis. The patient feels increasingly weak and exhausted, with a poor appetite and further weight loss. Blood cancers can affect the brain causing headaches and seizures.”
You should see your GP if you have any symptoms suggestive of blood cancer.
Dr Lee advised: “The majority of people with any of these symptoms will not have blood cancer, so, it’s important to get this into perspective, but if you have symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, night sweats or bruise or bleed easily, don’t leave it, see your GP.”
To reduce your blood cancer risk, manage any chronic medical conditions as best you can, eat healthily, keep your weight in the recommended BMI, take regular exercise, don’t smoke, and drink alcohol within recommended limits.
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