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Black with blood cancer

On this page, we explore experiences of blood cancer for people in the Black community. Find out what you need to know about blood cancer, and where to get help.

Photo of Yvonne, smiling and wearing a patterned head scarf.

Yvonne, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2018


Why Black with blood cancer?

There are health inequalities in the UK that affect Black people’s experience of blood cancer, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. Recent research reports that:

  • 6 out of 10 Black people in the UK (60%) do not believe their health is equally protected by the NHS compared to white people. (Clearview, 2020)
  • Ethnic bias and racial discrimination lower the standards of care Black people receive, and lead to higher mistrust of the healthcare system. (Clearview, 2022)
  • Black people in the UK are less likely than white people to take part in a clinical trial to treat blood cancer. (Smart, 2021)
  • Not enough Black people are registered to donate stem cells. So Black people are less likely than white people to find an unrelated matched donor for a stem cell transplant. (ACLT and Anthony Nolan)

Know the symptoms

An infographic showing the eleven most common symptoms of blood cancer.

Speak to your GP if one or more of these symptoms lasts a long time or isn't normal for you.

The next step would usually be a blood test. Your GP should give you one. Call us for support if you don’t feel your concerns are being taken seriously.

Symptoms of blood cancer don't vary between ethnic groups, but some symptoms look different on different skin tones. It’s important for any healthcare professionals you see to understand this.

For example, pallor, caused by a lack of red blood cells, can be checked by pulling down the lower eyelid. The inside will look pale pink or white rather than dark pink or red.

Read our information about the signs and symptoms of blood cancer, including symptoms on black and brown skin.

“I want to take my diagnosis and make something good out of it. That means stepping out of my comfort zone and using my experience to raise awareness of blood cancer, especially among the black community.”

Read Nadine’s story.

To share your story, please email the health information team at [email protected] with the subject line: "Black with blood cancer"

Nadine, wearing a yellow jumper and smiling

Types of blood cancer

There are over a hundred types of blood cancer, but these are the five main ones:

  • leukaemia
  • lymphoma
  • myeloma
  • myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
  • myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs)

Anyone can get blood cancer, but some types are more common depending on things like age, sex and ethnic background. We don't know why.

One type of blood cancer, myeloma (sometimes called multiple myeloma) is almost three times as common in Black people. But awareness in the community is very low.

Myeloma affects plasma cells in your bone marrow and can cause a range of symptoms including severe pain in your back, ribs or hips. Find out more about the symptoms of myeloma.

“I was called in to discuss my results and I remember that like it was yesterday. I went there with my wife; we sat down and were told ‘we have diagnosed you with multiple myeloma’ – I had never heard of it.”

Solomon with his wife

Stem cell transplants

A stem cell transplant is a treatment that can cure some types of blood cancer.

Some transplants use your own blood stem cells, but some people need a donor (or allogeneic) transplant using cells from another person.

If a donor stem cell transplant is an option for you, your hospital team will look for a suitable donor whose tissue is a good match for yours. They will start by testing any siblings you have and may test other relatives.

If none of your relatives are a good match, your hospital team will look for a donor on the blood stem cell registers, where people sign up to donate stem cells.

It can be harder to find an unrelated matched donor if you are Black or of mixed heritage. People are more likely to match with donors from a similar ethnic background, and fewer people who are Black or of mixed heritage are signed up to donor registers.

Charities like the ones listed below are working to raise awareness of stem cell donation in the Black community and can offer information and support:

You can also contact us.

If you are a family member or friend of someone with blood cancer, you can register to donate stem cells through any of the organisations above. Even if you are not a match for your loved one, you may be able to help someone else desperate for a transplant to save their life.

Coping with hair loss

Some treatments for blood cancer can cause your hair to get thinner and fall out. It’s understandable that a lot of people are upset by this, especially as hair has particular cultural and historical relevance in the Black community.

Hair is part of our identity, so to lose it, you lose so much - your control and choices over how you look.

- Yvonne, diagnosed with AML in 2018

Kinky and curly hair is more fragile and prone to breaking than straight hair. It may help to avoid relaxers, heat and strong products while you're having treatment.

You may also want to consider lighter lotions and oils that are gentler on your hair. If you cover your hair at night, continuing to do so with satin-lined bonnets and headwraps will also help protect your hair and soothe your scalp.

We have more information about caring for Afro-textured hair during blood cancer treatment.

Although we understand that the NHS is working to improve things, you may still find it hard to get a suitable wig on the NHS. We have information about finding an Afro-textured wig and other practical ways to manage hair loss.

“I said to the children ‘you can paint my head - you can use glitter and do whatever you want and that will help my hair grow back.’ It made it okay to talk about my hair not being there. Six months later it started to grow back."

Colourful photograph of Simone with paint and glitter on her bald head, along with a headband with two rainbow coloured ears, and a unicorn's horn. Simone is smiling.

Practical help

If you or a loved one have blood cancer or are waiting for a diagnosis, there are a few ways we can help:

Clinical trials

Taking part in a clinical trial can give you access to new treatments that aren’t otherwise available.

Our clinical trials support service can help you understand what trials are, what’s available in your situation and whether it’s the right thing for you. And if you join a trial, we’ll support you through it.

Making decisions about clinical trials

See what Advanced Nurse Practitioner Millie has to say about clinical trials, the barriers, the myths and asking the right questions.

A middle aged Black woman in glasses and a pink shirt.

The Blood Cancer Action Plan

Blood Cancer UK is working with people affected by blood cancer and clinicians to understand differences in blood cancer care and write recommendations on how to improve these inequalities.

We’ll be sharing our report with key decision makers in government and the NHS in the second half of 2024.

Find out more about the Blood Cancer Action Plan.

“We talk about being on this team that we wouldn’t have chosen to be on, but that now we’re on it, we’ve met some amazing people and it’s opened up new opportunities and ways of seeing the world. I now share my story so that it may help someone else.”

Read Yvonne’s story

To share your story, please email the health information team at [email protected] with the subject line: "Black with blood cancer"

Yvonne, case study

Other places to get support

  • Cancer Black Care (CBC) provides support, education and advocacy for all those living with and affected by cancer, with an emphasis on Black people and people of colour.
  • Cancer Education are dedicated to providing support to the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) communities including a helpline, educational resources and complementary therapies.

Are you running an awareness event?

If you’re running an event about blood cancer for your community, we have information and display materials you can use. Order our leaflet Let’s talk blood cancer and other free resources from the Blood Cancer UK Shop.

Your blood cancer diagnosis: what happens now? and Myeloma booklets