A new online training course designed to raise awareness of the symptoms of blood cancer among GPs is set to radically improve the rate of early diagnosis, bringing the UK up to EU standards and potentially saving around 1,000 lives a year1.
Blood cancer support charity Leukaemia CARE, in collaboration with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), has developed the course in a bid to deliver better outcomes for the 34,000 people diagnosed with blood cancers in the UK each year.
When combined, blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma are statistically the nation's fifth largest cancer threat and third biggest cancer killer. And yet because many of the symptoms of blood cancer experienced by patients, such as persistent fatigue, night sweats, joint pain, bruising and recurrent infections, may also be linked with a wide range of other less serious diseases, 33% of blood cancers - more than 10,000 patients - are only diagnosed via the emergency admissions route2, including accident and emergency.
Research shows that early diagnosis has a major impact on survival rates. For instance, the one year survival rate for myeloma patients diagnosed following a GP referral stands at 83.6% - but falls to 53.1% if diagnosis is delayed until the emergency admissions route3.
While online courses for GPs are available for other major cancers, this is the first of its kind for all blood cancers. Free of charge, it combines information on how to recognise the symptoms with case studies and like all RCGP training courses carries Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points - which GPs must complete to demonstrate that they are meeting the standards set by the General Medical Council.
The news comes as the UK marks its third Blood Cancer Awareness Month (1-30 September).
Tony Gavin, director of campaigning and advocacy at Leukaemia CARE, said: "Many of the symptoms of blood cancer can easily be confused with the symptoms of other less serious conditions or illnesses such as viral infections like flu, particularly in the early stages. We need to ensure that GPs are given every opportunity to look for and recognise these symptoms earlier, or to identify 'clusters' of symptoms that should be highly suggestive of a diagnosis of blood cancer.
"We also need to be aware of the fact that most GPs will only see one or two cases each year - making diagnosis all the more difficult.
"This new online course is designed to help doctors spot the signs and symptoms more quickly and more easily, ensuring that they make early referrals for the blood tests needed to confirm diagnosis. That early diagnosis will improve the future overall survival prospects for many blood cancer patients.
"We hope it will be a game-changer in diagnosing all types of blood cancer, and would like to thank everyone who has helped us to raise the funds to invest in such a vital tool."
Dr Ishani Patel, RCGP Clinical Lead for Early Diagnosis of Cancer and Quality Improvement, said: "Blood cancer is very difficult to diagnose in primary care - an average GP might only see one new case of blood cancer a year, if any - but it has the third biggest cancer death rate in the UK, so it is essential that healthcare professionals are supported to identify the signs and symptoms of blood cancer so that they can deliver as timely a diagnosis as possible.
"We hope that this new online training course will become an invaluable resource for GPs and their teams and support them in providing excellent care to patients with blood cancer through their diagnosis and beyond. "The RCGP looks forward to continuing our important collaboration with Leukaemia CARE."
As part of its work to raise awareness during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, Leukaemia CARE is urging people to think T.E.S.T when it comes to remembering the common symptoms of blood cancer - Tiredness, Excessive sweating, Sore bones and joints, Terrible bruising and bleeding. The charity is urging anyone experiencing one, some or all of these symptoms to see their GP. For more information, visit leukaemiacare.org.uk