New tool to tackle gaps in knowledge of blood cancer symptoms

About 250,000 people in the UK are living with a type of blood cancer.  

However, many people are diagnosed late, and emergency presentation is a common route to diagnosis. Researchers suggest this may be due to a lack of awareness of blood cancer symptoms, which are often vague and non-specific. 

Now, to change this, researchers from the University of Surrey and Queen Mary University of London have developed the Blood Cancer Awareness Measure (Blood CAM) tool. 

The tool is being seen as a “significant step” towards identifying and increasing the public’s knowledge of blood cancer.  

The power to save lives

The Blood CAM – which works as an online questionnaire – has been designed to quantify public knowledge of symptoms of blood cancer, including leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. 

Rincy George, Policy Officer at Blood Cancer UK, said: “This new tool is a significant step towards understanding the gaps in public awareness of blood cancer symptoms. 

“By identifying these knowledge gaps, it can help shape impactful awareness campaigns that have the potential to save lives.” 

She warns “timely diagnosis is crucial for those facing a blood cancer diagnosis.” 

A lack of knowledge

When researchers put the tool to use, they found that nearly 70% of people were not aware that night sweats are a symptom of blood cancer and 56% did not recognise rashes/itchy skin as an indicator of the disease.   

Unexplained weight loss (70%) and unexplained bleeding (65%) were the most recognised symptoms of blood cancer.

Men had lower knowledge of blood cancer symptoms than women, who were twice as likely to recognise bruising as a sign of the disease.

As part of continued work into blood cancer, the research team also investigated the role of patient enablement for those experiencing potential blood cancer symptoms.  

Patient enablement is defined as a patient’s ability to understand and cope with illness and life after a consultation with a doctor.   

When surveying 434 people, researchers found that 52% had experienced at least one potential blood cancer symptom.  

Following a series of questions to determine levels of patient enablement, researchers were surprised to find that those who scored highly on patient enablement were less likely to seek help from their GP for potential blood cancer symptoms.  

However, enablement was important for re-consultation behaviour (e.g. when symptoms didn’t go away), which is vital when experiencing blood cancer symptoms.    

Professor Katriina Whitaker, Lead for Cancer Care at the University of Surrey, said: “Tools such as these are vital to help improve earlier diagnosis of cancer. Assessing public awareness of cancer symptoms helps us identify knowledge gaps within the population and recommend remedies.” 

“Spotting cancer at an early stage saves lives. However, for blood cancer, symptoms are less known, and people often attribute them to other ailments, slowing down the diagnosis process.”  

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