The uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells is called cancer. These abnormal cells prevent blood cells from carrying out their typical functions, like fighting infections or blood clotting.
In the UK, blood cancers account for around 10% of all cancer cases. But although many patients are diagnosed each year, there is still a lack of understanding of the warning signs of the disease.
Blood cancers not only differ in the types of cells they affect but also how quickly they develop and how far they spread into the body. Though each type of blood cancer is dissimilar, they can share some common signs and symptoms.
What is blood cancer?
Blood cancers affect blood cells and bone marrow of your body. Your blood cells are made in bone marrow, which makes different types of blood cells. In most of the blood cancers, one specific type of blood cell becomes cancerous. These cancers change the behavior and working of blood cells. Mainly, there are three major types of blood cancer;
These cancers cause your lymphatic system and bone marrow to make blood cells which don’t work as well as they should. They act in different ways affecting different types of white blood cells. More than 30,000 individuals will be diagnosed with blood cancer in the UK this year.
Leukemia and myeloma occur when there are too many abnormal cells in the blood and bone marrow. It means there is inadequate production of normal blood cells, which can cause anemia, infections and bruising or bleeding.
Typically, lymphoma patients have increased numbers of cells in the lymph glands. Thus, causing them to be enlarged. However, other organs can also be affected in all of these diseases.
Symptoms of blood cancer can be quite unclear and most of them are shared with ailments like colds and flu – for instance, exhaustion, fever or an infection. Here are some of the most common symptoms of blood cancer, which, if spotted early, could lead to a life-saving early diagnosis of the disease.
Many people feel absolutely exhausted from time to time, but a tiredness that’s uncommon or persistent is something to search for medical advice about.
This is due to the stresses and strains of modern day life which leave many of us feeling in need of a rest. But, if you experience persistent exhaustion then you should go to see a doctor as soon as possible.
This exhaustion can be both in the form of fatigue and breathlessness (even when seated or resting). Whereas in many cases, exhaustion will not be related to a serious condition. But it can also be a sign of anemia which is a primary symptom of blood cancer.
Lumps and swelling
It’s nothing to worry about if your glands are up. Usually, it’s just a sign that your body is fighting off infections. But, they generally go down on their own within some days. Persistent unexplained enlargement of the lymph node can be a sign that abnormal white blood cells are building up in the lymph glands.
Lymphoma causes swollen lymph nodes which are often painless but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. Hence, if you discover any new swelling or lump which does not go away after a few days, then you should seek medical attention for its thorough assessment. It could be an initial indicator of blood cancer.
Bruising and bleeding
Bruising and bleeding are caused by a low level of blood-clotting cells (platelets) in your body. Some people do bruise more easily than others. And if you are on any medication like aspirin, steroids or blood thinners, this might explain it well. Moreover, your tendency to bruise also increases with age as skin becomes thinner over time.
But the new onset of bruising, particularly without any previous injury, bruising in unusual places, or unexplained bleeding could be a sign of low platelet level that can be associated with blood cancer. Low platelet levels can also cause tiny pinprick bruises, specifically on your lower legs.
These symptoms can be linked with all forms of blood cancer, but mostly linked to leukemia. It can also cause bleeding from your gums, nose, wounds, heavy periods, or blood in your poo. In rare cases, there may be a hemorrhage in the brain which can cause stroke-like symptoms.
Unexplained weight loss
Losing weight without any struggle may sound like a stroke of luck, but on the contrary, it could be a sign of worry. It is caused by dividing cells which use up a lot of energy (increasing your metabolism).
Losing weight because of dieting is expected. However, if an individual experience unexplained weight loss without actively trying, then this could be a cause for worry. Therefore, this needs to be investigated further. There are many other causes of unexplained weight loss as well. Also, it can be a sign of underlying disease, counting blood cancer, and should be investigated.
You should not feel like you are sick always. See your doctor if you seem to be getting every bug going.
Minor Infections like coughs and colds are very common, particularly in the winter months. Often, patients with blood cancers have a weak immune system because of the disease, which disposes to infections.
Thus, if you develop a recurring or persistent infection then it would be sensible to speak to your specialist to get this properly investigated.
If you are waking up on soaked sheets on a regular basis and it can’t be explained by the weather or an overzealous boiler, it’s worth considering.
Infrequent night sweats are not that rare and often not of great significance. Sometimes they occur because of changes to diet or alcohol intake, hot weather, infection, menopause or anxiety. But, night sweats can also be a symptom of lymphoma. And it may be very severe and can be a sign of blood cancer.
Therefore, if you suffer from the new onset of night sweats without any clear cause, particularly if they are recurring or drenching, you should consult your doctor.
Aches and pains
Miserably, experiencing more pains and aches than you used to is truly a normal part of aging. But they could also be a sign of blood cancers like leukemia or myeloma, specifically if they are severe or persistent.
There are also some individuals who may not have any signs until the advancement of the disease. Or, they may mistake signs for severe flu or cold.
Therefore, don’t ignore persistent pain in your bones or elsewhere. And try to seek medical attention immediately to ensure there is no cause for concern.