Thousands of blood cancer patients are suffering unnecessarily - and in some cases dying - because health professionals and the public aren't sufficiently aware of the symptoms of blood cancer.
This "crisis in awareness" means that, often, the symptoms of blood cancer are not taken seriously and identified as cancer until a patient becomes very unwell (often ending up in A&E), and when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat.
These findings, published in a report by blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, reveal an urgent need to raise public awareness of blood cancer so that people recognise the symptoms, see their doctor earlier, and are diagnosed - and treated - quicker.
The report Patient need: Improving the experiences and outcomes of people affected by blood cancer is the largest study of its kind, with more than 1,000 blood cancer patients involved.
The report finds that:
- One patient who had been visiting his GP for five years with severe abdominal pain and swollen lymph nodes was told to "go home and take paracetamol".
- There is a severe lack of awareness of blood cancer symptoms among the general public and within the health professions.
- Blood cancer patients frequently struggle to access the necessary support.
- Symptoms of blood cancers are often ignored by GPs.
Another patient visited doctors, including five different GPs, at least 15 times before she was taken seriously and referred to a specialist, where she was diagnosed with late stage incurable lymphoma. She said: "I had frequent night sweats, various non-specific pains...doctor after doctor told me it was my age or worse, in my head."
Some patients with suspected blood cancer reported being told by their GP to research their condition on the internet.
Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said:
"On average, blood cancer patients visit their GP more times than other cancer patients before they get referred for diagnosis. We know that blood cancer symptoms are diverse and can be hard to spot, but there is also an urgent need to raise awareness of these conditions among GPs, other health professionals and the public. Recognising tell-tale groups of symptoms early could lead to better chances of survival in many cases.
"Around 38,000 people are diagnosed with a blood cancer or related disorder every year in the UK, yet in many ways they are forgotten cancers. It is paramount that this crisis in awareness is tackled head-on, and we as a charity are committed to doing so."
The 2014 National Cancer Patient Experience Survey found that 36% of blood cancer patients visited their GP three or more times before a referral to hospital, compared to 25% of cancer patients overall. 47% of patients with myeloma, a cancer that is normally accompanied by debilitating bone damage, needed to see their GPs three or more times before a hospital referral.
Combined, blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma are the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, claiming more lives each year than breast cancer or prostate cancer. Common signs include tiredness, bruising, night sweats, headaches, and persistent infections.