Blood cancer symptoms: Five of the most commonly ignored signs of acute leukaemia

Blood cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, with one in 16 men and one in 22 women developing the disease in their lifetime. There are several different types of blood cancer, however the three most common are leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. To tie in with Blood Cancer Awareness Month, which is taking place throughout September, Dr Panagiotis Kottaridis, Consultant Haematologist at HCA Healthcare UK at University College Hospital, explained to Express.co.uk about acute leukaemia – one of the most common and fast developing forms of blood cancer and reveals the most common symptoms which are often ignored or misdiagnosed.

Acute leukaemia is one of the most common and fast developing forms of blood cancer

Dr Panagiotis Kottaridis said: “Blood cancer develops as a result of abnormalities within the blood cells which causes them to malfunction and grow out of control, impacting the body’s normal immune function.

“Acute leukaemia develops quickly and affects the body’s natural ability to develop healthy blood cells. Leukemia causes the overproduction of abnormal white blood cells, which overcrowd the bone marrow, interfering with its ability to make essential red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

“Blood cancer is the third deadliest form of cancer, leading to 15,000 deaths each year – and patients aren’t diagnosed with acute leukaemia until they’re admitted to hospital, often as an emergency. It’s important to know the commonly ignored signs so patients can seek urgent medical advice if they are experiencing symptoms.”

Tiredness

Tiredness is often viewed as an acceptable side effect of modern living, with many people reaching for an afternoon caffeine fix to help them get though the day.

While a busy lifestyle can sometimes be held responsible for feeling sleepy, if you are constantly suffering from extreme tiredness or fatigue even after resting, Dr Kottaridis said it’s important to visit a GP to check for an underlying cause, especially if the tiredness is alongside muscle weakness.

He added: “While fatigue is not often a cause for concern, it could indicate anaemia – a deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood – which is also a common symptom of leukaemia.”

Skin bruising

Commonly patients with leukaemia present with unexplained bruising.

Dr Kottaridis explained: “This is due to the overcrowding of the bone marrow with abnormal white blood cells inhibiting the production of platelets, which can cause people to bruise easily. While many people brush aside bruises or blame them on their clumsy behaviour, frequent bruising with no obvious cause should always be checked out by a doctor as it could suggest an underlying problem that needs investigating.”

Bleeding

Many of us will experience some bleeding when brushing our teeth, however if you start to experience unexplained bleeding from your gums or notice more bleeding than you would normally expect then it is important to seek advice from you doctor.

Dr Kottaridis advised: “A lack of platelets can also cause bleeding from other parts of the body, whilst nosebleeds are commonly nothing to worry about, if you suddenly start to experience sudden nosebleeds, which are hard to control this should be investigated by your doctor.

“Bleeding from other parts of the body may not always be as noticeable, for example inside your gut, this may lead to blood in your stool or your stool appearing to be very black and or tarry.”

Aches and pains

Most people experience aches and pains throughout everyday life, making it all too easy to dismiss symptoms such as bone pain as just another sign of ageing.

However, Dr Kottaridis said blood cancers such as leukaemia often cause the same type of aches that many people consider ‘normal’ or believe it’s not worth bothering the doctor with.

he explained: “While the occasional pain is not usually anything to worry about, if you are suffering from persistent or severe aches or pains originating in your bones, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible.”

Recurrent infections

One of the most common symptoms of leukaemia is often the most frequently ignored.

Dr Kottaridis warned: “Recurring infections can be an early sign of leukaemia as the body is not producing the mature white blood cells that would normally muster a response and fight infection

“If you suffer from severe or recurrent/persistent infections, it is important to seek medical advice from your GP.”

A sign on a person’s neck can also signal blood cancer. 

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