Awareness of blood cancer is low

1 in 4 cannot name a single common symptom
  • Deborah Condon

Over 1,900 people are newly diagnosed with blood cancers in Ireland every year and these account for 10% of all cancers here, yet almost one-quarter of people cannot name a single common symptom of the disease, new research has found.

Blood cancer is an umbrella term for cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. Most types of blood cancer are rare, life-threatening conditions. There are over 140 different types of blood cancers, which can be classified into three main groups, leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

According to these latest findings, 60% of Irish people mistook multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, for a form of skin cancer.

Just 12% associated the name with blood cancer.

Furthermore, 67% of people feel that awareness of this disease is low because they have not heard much about it in the media. Some even assumed that this low level of awareness is probably because the disease has a low mortality rate, which is incorrect.

In fact, it is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in Ireland, but 85% of people were surprised to learn that.

The research was released as part of a new awareness campaign, which has been launched to coincide with Blood Cancer Awareness Month (September). The campaign is being run by blood cancer support charities, the Irish Cancer Society, Multiple Myeloma Ireland and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Ireland, along with pharmaceutical company, Janssen.

The ‘Make Blood Cancer Visible' campaign is also supported by former Irish professional boxer, Barry McGuigan, whose father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer, at the age of 52. He underwent surgery, but died just nine weeks later.

"My family and I were shocked and devastated. In 1987, we were unaware of blood cancer or what it meant in terms of prognosis, treatment and survival. Today, however, there is renewed hope.

"There is a drive for more public awareness and education, and survival rates and quality of life for many blood cancer patients has significantly improved thanks to early diagnosis and better treatment options. Recognising the subtle signs of blood cancer is key, so take the time to educate yourself and visit your doctor if you notice anything strange," Mr McGuigan said.

Blood cancer sysmptoms can vary and this can lead to a delay in the patient seeking medical help. An early diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment. Common symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, bruising or bleeding easily, feeling weak or breathless, enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal discomfort, frequent infections, fever or night sweats.

Anyone experincing any of these symptoms is advised to visit their doctor.

"Due to the complex, often rare nature of blood cancer, patients may at times feel overlooked and can have difficulty accessing the right support and information. We would urge anyone who is worried about blood cancer or who has received a blood cancer diagnosis to seek support.

"It is our hope that by investing in research such as the collaborative Blood Cancer Network Ireland, we will increase our understanding of this often invisible cancer," commented Donal Buggy, head of services and advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society.

According to the director of Blood Cancer Network Ireland, Prof Michael O'Dwyer of NUI Galway, in recent decades, science ‘has advanced quickly and opened doors for more precise treatment'.

"We have seen exciting progress in our understanding and ability to treat blood cancers. Survival rates reflect our remarkable progress in diagnosis and treatment. In Ireland, the five-year net survival for someone diagnosed with multiple myeloma, for example, has nearly doubled in the period from 1994-2013, and continues to improve.

"Despite this progress, the need is still great for continued investment in clinical research and innovation in this field, but also for patients to recognise their symptoms earlier," he explained.

The ‘Make Blood Cancer Visible' campaign will host a free patient information evening for people living with this disease on Wednesday, September 27, at 6.30pm, in the Davenport Hotel on Merrion Street, Dublin 2.

For more information on this campaign, click here

For more information on any type of cancer, you can also call the Irish Cancer Society's Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700, click here or visit one of the 13 Daffodil Centres, which are located in 13 major hospitals nationwide.


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