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Latest research from blood cancer support charity, Leukaemia CARE, shows that more than two thirds of the British public aren’t aware what the symptoms of blood cancer are.
Blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma affect around 34,000 people in the UK each year, but a survey of 2,000 people across the UK has revealed that 63% of Brits are unable to recognise the symptoms.
As part of Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September, Leukaemia CARE wants to educate the UK population on what to look out for, so they know when to pay a visit to their GP to be on the safe side.
While it is easier to diagnose blood cancers if the symptoms appear in clusters such as persistent fatigue, night sweats, joint pain, bruising and recurrent infections, frequently in the earlier stages, only one or two of these symptoms may be present. In any case, they do need to be checked and explained by a GP in order to rule out a blood cancer.
90% of those surveyed said that such symptoms are often put down to conditions ranging from flu to the menopause to growing pains, with only 1 in 10 people actually recognising these symptoms as those of a blood cancer.
Just under a third (32%) of adults have heard of blood cancer, but feel they know nothing about it and admit readily that more needs to be done to educate people about what the disease is.
Almost 1 in 5 (19%) have had some personal contact with the disease, either having had it themselves or through friends or relatives and of those aware of the disease, the majority (two thirds) understand that there are different types of blood cancer, although this still leaves a third who don’t realise this.
Jo Price’s son Adam – who is now 8 and a half years old - was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when he was just 4 years of age and underwent intensive chemotherapy for 3 and a half years. He is now in remission, but has check ups every 3 months.
Jo says diagnosing the condition was very tricky as Adam was covered in bruises, but they put it down to sport or him being involved in the rough and tumble at school; “We didn’t know anything about blood cancers until Adam was diagnosed, so the symptoms he was experiencing didn’t immediately make us think ‘leukaemia’. I guess you always think it would never happen to you or your children. If it wasn’t for the quick actions of the medical staff and the swift diagnosis, things could have been a completely different story. We are testament to the fact that early diagnosis can save lives and more needs to be done around raising awareness of this type of cancer.”
More than half (55%) of those surveyed admitted they were not aware that blood cancer is the third biggest cancer killer in Britain. However, despite this shock and lack of awareness, prompting people to take action and visit their GP is a major challenge for the charity - only 9% say they will now take notice of what the signs are.
Esther Wroughton, Care Director at the charity, admits it’s very difficult to get this message across to the general public; “Blood cancer is an incredibly difficult illness to recognise, as our research shows. Many people just don’t connect all the symptoms and end up going to the doctor’s many times with different problems before it is diagnosed. We recognise this and are committed to helping the general public take better care and to helping GPs detect the disease earlier.”
Therefore, part of this awareness campaign by Leukaemia CARE is a focus on working much more closely with GPs to diagnose blood cancers earlier, after their studies showed that more than a quarter of patients affected by blood cancer felt their GP did not respond to their concerns when they first reported health problems. Nearly a third (28%) felt their GPs did not listen to them at all and did not pay sufficient attention to them during consultations.
Esther from the charity, said: “Misdiagnosis at an early stage can be extremely serious for the patient – it increases the chances their disease will become more advanced before being treated – potentially making it far harder to actually overcome. In fact, NHS data shows that 57% of all acute leukaemias are identified when someone attends hospital as an emergency. This tells us we need to better arm our GPs with knowledge, guidance, advice and support to spot the symptoms earlier and that is what we are doing.”
The charity is investing in providing GPs with access to a free online learning course that will increase their awareness of blood cancers and their symptoms to help them recognise identifying blood cancers sooner. The early diagnostic toolkit will be launched in the New Year.