CREDIT: This story was first seen in Sky News
Blood cancer’s “vague” symptoms, like tiredness and bruising, mean it is more likely a patient’s diagnosis is delayed, MPs say.
Sky News reports that a group of MPs is urging doctors to offer blood tests to people who come to their surgeries with one or more potential symptoms of blood cancer.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancer, set up in June 2016, has published a report recommending that GPs routinely test for the disease, which has many variations including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
It says that despite being the fifth most common cancer in the UK, it is often missed, as symptoms can be vague – such as tiredness, bruising, back ache, night sweats and weight loss – and are often put down to other health problems such as flu.
The group’s chair, Conservative MP Henry Smith, has a personal connection with the disease, as his mother died from acute myeloid leukaemia in 2012.
“I have witnesses the terrible effects of blood cancer first hand, but general awareness among the public, health professionals and policymakers is very low,” he said, “and we must work together to change this. Delays in diagnosis can have a severe impact on an individual’s chance of survival.”
That’s something echoed by Wendy Leigh, a blood cancer patient who lives in Milton Keynes. She was diagnosed with stage 4b follicular lymphoma in 2011, but was only told what was wrong after two years and 15 visits to the doctor.
“I had to insist on some blood tests, I had to insist on some referrals,” she told Sky News.
“The fact that it took over two years to finally getting to a referral that was to a gynaecologist – and he then forwarded me on – just shows how frustrating it is.”
Wendy was lucky – although her type of cancer is usually incurable, after two years of chemotherapy she’s now in remission, and even went on a sponsored hike to Iceland recently, to raise money for a blood cancer charity. But she still lives with the disease every day.
“I know it’s underlying and there is a very high probability of its relapse and return,” she says. “And the problem is because the symptoms are non-specific, I don’t really know what I’m looking for.”
GPs agree there’s a lack of knowledge about blood cancer among the public, but say they’re already under pressure and would need more resources– not to mention scientific proof of their necessity – before adding further blood tests to their workload.
“We need greater awareness generally of blood cancer as a condition,” says Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
“But they also suggest that GPs should be doing far more testing, and that’s not necessarily an evidence based suggestion. And it doesn’t really take into consideration the difficulty that general practice is facing at the moment.
“We have an under-resourced general practice, we are very short staffed, we are short of GPs and nurses. And also diagnostic tests and imaging are not always as readily available in the community as we would like.”
It’s not all up to medics, though – MPs also want more public health campaigns to increase people’s awareness of blood cancer, better psychological support for patients and more government funding set aside for research, in the hopes that the disease the report calls “the hidden cancer” will finally become better known.