This month we are supporting Blood Cancer Awareness Month. According to Bloodwise a UK based charity, 96% of people don't know that blood cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers, and 91% don't know it's one of the most common cancers.
In this blog post MECCG Clinical Lead and Macmillian GP for mid Essex, Dr Liz Towers explains what blood cancers are, common symptoms and what treatments are available.
What are blood cancers?
Blood cancers, or haematological cancers, are a number of different illnesses that include leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and a number of other conditions. They all affect the cells of the blood or lymphatic system. Blood cells are the tiny structures that enable our blood to carry oxygen, fight illness and help blood to clot when needed. Usually, these cells divide to make new cells in a controlled way. Sometimes, this goes wrong and the cell becomes abnormal, and keeps dividing to make more and more abnormal cells. This can affect the normal functions of our blood and give rise to damage elsewhere. 30,000 patients in the UK are diagnosed with one of these conditions each year. They can affect people of any age.
- Looking pale, feeling tired, feeling breathless; these are also symptoms of anaemia which is caused by a lack of red blood cells
- Getting more infections than normal, due to a lack of white blood cells
- Unusual bleeding caused by a lack of platelets which help the blood to clot
- Feeling run down or generally unwell
- Fevers and/or sweats
Other symptoms can include bone pain, enlarged lymph glands (lumps in the neck) and kidney problems.
It is important to remember that the symptoms above can be caused by conditions other than cancer. However, if you are experiencing these symptoms you should see your GP, who may arrange some tests or refer you for further investigation.
Treatment for blood cancer varies depending on the type of illness, the age of the patient, and numerous other factors. It can include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant and stem cell therapy.
These are all serious illnesses; however there have been great advances in their treatment in the last 20-30 years. For example, the overall 5 year survival rate for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is over 85% now.