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Over a third of people dismiss possible signs of blood cancer

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
Posted by
27 Aug 2019

Over a third of UK adults (39%) had at least one symptom that could have been blood cancer in the last year but didn’t see a doctor, according to a new survey from Bloodwise.

Nearly three-quarters of adults (69%) believed their symptoms were either trivial or would go away by themselves, but more than one in ten (11%) felt that a doctor wouldn’t take their concerns seriously.

Of those with symptoms, a third did see a doctor, but less than a quarter (23%) went within a month and just over one in 10 (11%) waited at least six months.

More than 40,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with blood cancer every year. It’s the UK’s third biggest cause of cancer deaths and kills more people than either breast or prostate cancers.

Starting blood cancer treatment early can improve its effectiveness and, in some cases, the chances of survival.

Georgie's story: 'I wonder if seeing my GP sooner may have avoided a relapse'

Georgie Swallow, 27 from Buckinghamshire had repeated infections and severe itching for over a year, which were put down to stress, eczema or a food allergy. She also had extreme tiredness, for months, but thought that was due to being really busy.

She said: “When I finally got tested, I was adamant it would be glandular fever. I was completely stunned when it turned out to be a blood cancer.  Looking back, I wonder if going to see my GP sooner would have prevented my cancer from spreading and perhaps even avoided my relapse.”

Paul's story: 'my diagnosis came as a massive shock'

Paul Carless, 51 from Reading had symptoms for seven months before ending up in A&E and being diagnosed with blood cancer.

He said: “I had a cough and cold for weeks and weeks as well as being exhausted and having night sweats. I had no idea these might be warning signs for blood cancer, so my diagnosis came as a massive shock.”

The survey of over 2,000 people was carried out by YouGov, on behalf of Bloodwise, to look at the public’s attitude to symptoms that are red flags for types of blood cancer such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. The findings were released today ahead of Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September.

Blood cancer signs and symptoms

We are worried that low public awareness of the symptoms is contributing to delays in diagnosis and has worked with medical experts to produce a free symptoms guide to help people identify and monitor the possible signs.

Blood cancer symptoms include:

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lumps or swellings
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Persistent, recurrent or severe infections
  • Unexplained rash or itchy skin
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep

Gemma Peters, Chief Executive of Bloodwise, said: “Blood cancer symptoms can be confused with less serious common conditions, which may lead to them being dismissed or downplayed. People often tell us it never crossed their mind that their symptoms were being caused by blood cancer.

“In most cases, thankfully, the cause won’t be anything serious. However, if any of these symptoms are persistent, unexplained or unusual they should be checked out by a doctor.

“It’s not possible to screen for blood cancer so it’s important we raise public awareness of the symptoms. We hope our guide will give people the knowledge and confidence to discuss any concerns with their doctor so they can be accurately and promptly diagnosed.”

Symptoms most likely to trigger a GP appointment

All survey respondents were also asked which symptom would most likely trigger them to visit a doctor.  Lumps or swellings in the neck, head, groin or stomach would send over eight out of ten (83%) people to get checked out and seven out of ten (70%) would go for repeated infections.

While at the other end of the scale only around four out of 10 would seek medical help for drenching night sweats (35%) or unexplained itchy skin (28%).

Order our free pocket guide on blood cancer symptoms 

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