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People with undiagnosed blood cancer don't know they're vulnerable to coronavirus

18th Apr 2020

There are over 10,000 people with undiagnosed blood cancer who are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus, but don't know it.

With fewer people using the NHS for routine appointments, we're concerned that people with potential blood cancer symptoms might not want to burden the NHS at the moment, or could mistake blood cancer symptoms for signs that they have the coronavirus because some of the symptoms are the same.

With 40,000 new cases a year, over the three months that people are shielding, there will be 10,000 people who develop blood cancer. This is in addition to the thousands of people who will already have it but have not been diagnosed yet. We're urging people to make sure they know the symptoms of blood cancer and to get any symptoms checked as soon as possible.

Being diagnosed quickly is important at any time for improving chances of survival, but it is now more important than ever because people with blood cancer – which includes leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma – are at a much higher risk from the coronavirus than the general population. While most people with cancer are only in the “extremely vulnerable” group, if they have had treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, everyone with blood cancer is extremely vulnerable because their blood cells are less able to fight viruses.

We fear that people with undiagnosed blood cancer will not be shielding because they do not know they are at higher risk. In Spain, there has already been the high-profile case of Francisco García, a 21-year-old football coach who had undiagnosed leukaemia and died after contracting the coronavirus. And with some types of blood cancer such as myeloma taking an average of over three months to be diagnosed, there are more people with undiagnosed blood cancer than with any other type of cancer.

Please contact your GP if you have any symptoms that are persistent or not normal, including:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Lumps or swellings
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Persistent, recurrent or severe infections
  • Unexplained fever (38°C or above)

Gemma Peters, Chief Executive of Blood Cancer UK, said: “At a time when the NHS is under greater pressure than ever before, it might feel only natural to put off seeking medical attention for a symptom that may end up being nothing. But while this reaction is understandable, if you are one of the 10,000 people with undiagnosed blood cancer in the UK then it could potentially be fatal.

“We already know that too many people die because they’re diagnosed too late. But added to the risk of death from late diagnosis is the fact that people with undiagnosed blood cancer are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“This potentially deadly double effect means it has never been more important that people know the symptoms of blood cancer and contact their GP if they have any of them.”

For further information, please call our Press Office on 020 7269 9019 or email us at [email protected]. During out of office hours, please call 07824 375880.

Notes to Editors

  • For children, the coronavirus usually only has a minimal effect on them, so children experiencing symptoms that could be the coronavirus but could be something else should make especially sure they get them checked.
  • Some people with blood cancer will have slow developing blood cancers that can safely be managed without immediate treatment. Others will need to start treatment straight away.
  • Previous research has shown that it can take a long time for blood cancer to be diagnosed. For example, for myeloma it takes an average of 114 days from first noticing symptoms to being diagnosed. For Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it is 97 days.

About Blood Cancer UK

We’re a community dedicated to beating blood cancer by funding research and supporting those affected. Since 1960, we've invested over £500 million in blood cancer research, transforming treatments and saving lives.