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Could you name the 7 signs or symptoms of blood cancer?

Blood cancers develop as a result of abnormalities within the blood cells, which stop them from working properly and causes them grow out of control. Surprisingly for some, it is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK, with over 40,000 people being diagnosed with blood cancer each year. Here, Dr Amit Patel talks through the top warning signs and symptoms that you should be looking out for.

Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

The stresses and strains of modern-day life leave many of us feeling in constant need of a rest. However, if you’re experience persistent fatigue – both in the form of tiredness and breathlessness (even when seated or resting) – then my advice would be to go and see a doctor as soon as possible. Whilst in many cases fatigue will not be linked to a more serious condition, it can also be an indicator of anaemia, which is a primary symptom of blood cancer.

Lumps and swellings

Swollen lymph nodes found on the neck, groin, and armpit are most often reactive, for example due to an infection. Persistent, unexplained lymph node enlargement can however be an indication that abnormal white blood cells are building up in the lymph glands.

Swollen lymph nodes due to lymphoma are often painless. If you discover a new lump or swelling which does not go away after a few days, then the recommendation is to seek medical attention so that it can be thoroughly assessed. It could be an early indicator of blood cancer – and is most commonly associated with lymphoma.

Bruising and bleeding

Easy bruising is not uncommon and may not be significant. This can be associated with medication such as aspirin, steroids or blood thinners (for example warfarin). It is also more common with advancing age as the skin becomes thinner. 

New onset of bruising, especially without any prior injury, bruising in unusual places (such as on your tummy), or unexplained bleeding (for example nosebleeds, bleeding from your gums or unusually heavy periods), could indicate a low platelet level which can be associated with blood cancer. Low platelet levels can also lead to tiny pinprick bruises, especially on your lower legs.

These symptoms can be associated with all forms of blood cancer; but is most often linked to leukaemia.

Unexplained weight loss

Losing weight as a consequence of dieting is expected, however, if an individual experiences significant, unexplained weight loss without actively trying to do this, then this could be a cause for concern and needs to be investigated further. Unexplained weight loss has many causes, although it can be a sign of underlying disease including blood cancer and should be investigated.

Recurring infections

Minor Infections such as coughs and colds are common, especially in the winter months. Patients with blood cancers often have a weak immune system as a consequence of the disease which predisposes to infections. Therefore, if you develop persistent or recurring infections then it would be advisable to speak to your doctor to get this investigated.

Night sweats

Occasional night sweats are not that uncommon and often not of great significance. Sometimes they occur as a result of hot weather, infection, changes to diet or alcohol intake, menopause or anxiety. Night sweats can however also be a symptom of lymphoma and could be very severe, to the point where you would want to change your bedclothes or the sheets. If you suffer from new onset of night sweats without any obvious cause, especially if they are recurrent or drenching, you should speak to your doctor.

Aches and pains

Aches and pains can be a normal part of ageing; however, this can also be a symptom of blood cancers such as leukaemia or myeloma, especially if they are persistent or severe. Don’t ignore persistent pain in your bones or elsewhere; I would recommend seeking medical attention to ensure there is no cause for concern.
If you’re concerned that you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s important you book to see your doctor to rule out conditions such as blood cancer. Book an appointment with one of our private GPs here.
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