Home News & Events News BLOG: September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month

At the Rutherford Cancer Centres we want to help raise awareness of blood cancers (also known as haematological cancers).

The last decade has seen a national increase in survival rates from blood cancer. Around 250,000 people in the UK are now living with blood cancer. The charity Blood Cancer UK has put this down to the introduction of new effective drugs. But blood cancer still kills around 12,000 a year people in the UK and, for some blood cancers, the survival rates remain depressingly low.

Every day, around 104 people are told that they have some form of blood cancer, according to the Antony Nolan blood cancer charity. These people need fast access to effective treatment. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are two first-line treatment options that are available at the Rutherford Cancer Centres.

We are continuing to care for our cancer patients, while strictly observing clinical guidelines published by during the pandemic (see our coronavirus info page for more details).

Warning signs of blood cancer 

So, what are the early warning signs of the three main blood cancers: leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma?

Although there are different types of leukaemia, they can all begin with flu-like symptoms such as a fever, night sweats and fatigue. But if these last longer than you’d expect, you should contact your GP (or dial 111 – the urgent medical helpline in the UK), particularly if you also have:

  • A loss of appetite or sudden weight loss
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent infections
  • Bruising or heavy bleeding

There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Each has a slightly different set of symptoms:

Hodgkin lymphoma

  • A lump under the skin. It’s usually, but not always, in the neck or above the collar bone, in the armpit, or groin (due to enlarged lymph nodes or glands)
  • Fever (but no infection) and night sweats – a B symptom
  • A loss of appetite and sudden unexplained weight loss – a B symptom
  • Tiredness – a B symptom
  • Itchy skin – either widespread or limited to one spot
  • Possibly some chest pain and accompanying breathing difficulties and coughing. This can be caused by a deeper swelling

The B symptoms, and whether you have these or not, influence the type of treatment that’s right for you.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Swollen (but painless) lymph nodes (glands)
  • Fever and sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Swollen tummy
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath

Again, if you’re worried about your symptoms, you should contact your GP (or dial 111 – the urgent medical helpline in the UK).

The most common symptoms of myeloma include:

  • Pain
  • Unexplained broken bones in your back, rib cage or hips
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Infections that happen repeatedly
  • Nerve damage to your hands and feet causing a loss of dexterity; ‘pins and needles’; numbness; muscle cramps; weakness or tremor; and pain

How can radiotherapy and chemotherapy help?

You may be offered a range of treatment options - these can change as your treatment progresses. Some treatments, such as a blood transfusion, are just to help manage your symptoms.

Blood cancers are usually treated with intensive chemotherapy – a course of high-dose anticancer drugs that kill cancer cells. The treatment may involve one or more different drugs. Chemotherapy may be given alone, with radiotherapy or a stem cell transplant.

One consequence of chemotherapy is that you’re more likely to get an infection because the drugs reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood, known as neutropenia. If you’re at risk of neutropenia, you may need to self-isolate, with one-to-one care from a nurse specialist supported by doctors including an oncologist and haematologist.

Radiotherapy is also used to target blood cancers. It’s used to make chemotherapy more effective and to reduce the bone pain caused by blood cancer. You may also be offered radiotherapy before a stem cell transplant.

Rutherford Cancer Centres are proud to support blood cancer awareness month this September.

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