Early diagnosis saves lives #SpotLeukaemia

Spot Leukaemia Campaign launched by Leukaemia Care UK

September 4, 2017

People experiencing leukaemia symptoms are suffering in silence. Over half (58%) of leukaemia patients put off visiting their GP for more than a month from when they first start experiencing symptoms

Too many people are unaware of leukaemia symptoms leading them to put off visiting their GP, according to new research from Leukaemia Care.  While most (81%) patients experienced symptoms of leukaemia, very few (14%) suspected their symptoms indicated blood cancer, and only 3% expected it.

The report, ‘Living with Leukaemia”, surveyed over 2,000 people living with leukaemia in the UK.  It found that over half of leukaemia patients put off visiting their GP for more than a month from when they first started experiencing symptoms.  Nearly one in ten (9%) of respondents didn’t see a GP about their symptoms for more than a year.

The research has also highlighted that GPs are struggling to spot leukaemia.  Less than half (44%) of respondents felt that their GP had a good understanding of the disease.  Worryingly, more than one in ten patients (13% overall, ranging from 8% to 24% across different leukaemia types) were initially treated for something else by their GP.

Leukaemia Care has today warned that this gap in understanding is leading to delays in diagnosis, which severely impacts survival rates and quality of life for leukaemia patients.

Leukaemia symptoms are notoriously vague and non-specific.  People commonly experience fatigue, shortness of breath, fever and night sweats, bruising or bleeding, joint or bone pain and sleeping problems[1]. As a result, people with leukaemia are more likely to be diagnosed in an emergency than other cancers.  64% of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) cases and 53% of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cases are diagnosed following an emergency admission[2].

Today, Leukaemia Care is launching #SpotLeukaemia to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia. To help #SpotLeukaemia, visit leukaemiacare.org.uk/spot-leukaemia

Commenting on the research, Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy at Leukaemia Care, said: “Leukaemia is notoriously difficult to spot. People with leukaemia have told us how they felt unwell prior to their diagnosis but didn’t see their GP because they didn’t think their symptoms were that serious.  It’s so easy to dismiss leukaemia symptoms as feeling a bit run-down or under the weather.  We want people to feel empowered to speak to their GP if they have any concerns at all.

“We urgently need to improve leukaemia awareness among the public and GPs so that patients can get a diagnosis and access treatment faster.  That’s why Leukaemia Care has launched the Spot Leukaemia campaign – early diagnosis saves lives.”

Dr Ellie Cannon, a London-based GP, said: “I’m supporting the ‘Spot Leukaemia’ campaign this September for Blood Cancer Awareness Month.  The campaign seeks to raise awareness amongst the public and medical professionals of the different types of leukaemia, common symptoms and the populations they may affect.  Leukaemia can be difficult for GPs to spot, because its relatively rare and symptoms may be vague.”

Kris Griffin, a leukaemia patient, said: “The new job involved a longer commute and I was experiencing some pains in my back.  I was also having night sweats and had lost a little weight which, quite frankly, felt totally insignificant.  I had no idea that my body was sending out a distress signal.  I went to the GP who prescribed paracetamol and wasn’t overly concerned.  Still in pain I returned two weeks later and was tested for arthritis.  The blood results returned a diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukaemia.”

 

Leukaemia Care , Living with Leukaemia. Available at: www.leukaemiacare.org.uk/living-with-leukaemia (accessed August 2017)

2 NCIN, Routes to Diagnosis. Available at: http://www.ncin.org.uk/publications/routes_to_diagnosis (accessed August 2017)

Notes to editors

Leukaemia Care has today released the report ‘Living with Leukaemia’.  The report is based on responses from 1320 leukaemia patients identified through the National Cancer Patient Experience 2015 Survey and 699 leukaemia patients from the wider blood cancer community.  The report can be accessed online here: www.leukaemiacare.org.uk/living-with-leukaemia

About Leukaemia Care

Leukaemia Care is a national blood cancer support charity.  We are dedicated to ensuring that anyone affected by blood cancer receives the right information, advice and support.

A diagnosis of a blood cancer can have a huge impact on someone emotionally, as well as physically. We understand that feelings of shock, anger and loneliness are all common at the time of diagnosis, during treatment and recovery and having someone to talk to, as well as the right information available can be a huge comfort.

We not only support patients, but carers and families too who can often carry a lot of the emotional strain when someone they love is diagnosed with a blood cancer.

We focus on the support that is needed now to help those affected by blood cancer cope during a diagnosis and beyond.

About leukaemia

Over 9,500 people are diagnosed with leukaemia in the UK every year3 Leukaemia is a cancer which starts in blood-forming tissue, usually the bone marrow.  It leads to the over-production of abnormal white blood cells, the part of the immune system which defends the body against infection.

Are there different types of leukaemia?

There are a number of different types of leukaemia, but the four most common are:

  • Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)- Rapidly developing, affects myeloid cells (granulocytes)
  • Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)- Slowly developing, affects myeloid cells (granulocytes)
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)- Rapidly developing, affects lymphocytes
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)- Slowly developing, affects lymphocytes

 

Cancer Research UK, Incidence Statistics, Leukaemia.  Available at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/leukaemia (accessed August 2017)