24 Aug 2022Awareness raising

Non-existent awareness of leukaemia symptoms “extremely worrying” – say leading UK leukaemia charities, as they launch memorable new campaign to get people “parroting on” about the symptoms

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People over 55 also underestimate their risk, thinking that leukaemia is a childhood disease. Only 11% of over 55s thought that they had the greatest risk of leukaemia[1], whereas in reality cases rise sharply after the age of 55 and 38% of all new cases occur in the over 75s.

Brits are being urged to take notice of the symptoms of leukaemia, as new research published today shows that less than 1% of Brits are able to identify the four most widely reported symptoms[2]fatigue, bruising, unusual bleeding and repeated infections.

Leukaemia affects people of all ages and 28 people receive a leukaemia diagnosis every day in the UK – that’s over 10,000 every year. Overall survival for leukaemia stands at just over 50%[3] – making it one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

Early diagnosis could saves lives[4], yet the recent public survey by leukaemia charities Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care, found that over two-fifths (42%) of respondents could not recognise ANY of the four most widely reported symptoms of the disease[5], which kills 5,000 people a year in the UK, and which is often diagnosed too late.

The two charities are collaborating on an important campaign, #SpotLeukaemia, to raise awareness of the symptoms ahead of Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September. Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer and third deadliest.

In a new film released today Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK have called on the expertise of ‘Henry’, a very talented Macaw parrot, to try to make the symptoms of leukaemia memorable. The ad sees Henry using a range of objects to create a catchy and repetitive ‘Spot Leukaemia rap’ featuring fatigue, bruising, bleeding and infections. If you are concerned about any of these symptoms – fatigue, bruising, unusual bleeding and repeated infections – the charities urge you to contact your GP and request a blood test. You can also find out more information by visiting the Spot Leukaemia website at www.spotleukaemia.org.uk.

Henry says voicing the symptoms of leukaemia is vital #SpotLeukaemia – YouTube

The ad focuses on the top four symptoms. Other symptoms of leukaemia include fever or night sweats, bone or joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.

The charities are now calling on people to start “parroting on” about leukaemia and its symptoms, share the video with friends and family, and visit the Spot Leukaemia website for more help and advice.

Awareness of the symptoms of leukaemia is low in the UK

Only 11% of respondents across the UK recognised that repeated infections – one of the most common symptoms of leukaemia – are a symptom, only 29% said unusual bruising is a symptom and only 12% said unusual bleeding is a symptom. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents were not able to recognise fatigue as a symptom – which is often the most likely symptom to be identified by those later diagnosed with leukaemia.[6]

Tracey’s mystery symptoms turned out to be signs of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

Tracey, 43, who works as a Learning and Development Manager, was on a business trip when she started feeling unwell. “I was just exhausted all the time and had bruises appear and mouth ulcers which I couldn’t explain. I suddenly had a very heavy period and found I was out of breath just talking or walking up a hill,” she said. “Then I fainted a few times when I got back home which had never happened to me before. My GP told me to go to A&E where I fainted again.”

Tracey was showing bruising and unusual bleeding with her heavy period, like the Spot Leukaemia advert. She’d also been experiencing some of the other symptoms of leukaemia like breathlessness and a mysterious pain in her bones.

She arrived at A&E at about 5.30pm on a Monday evening and fainted again while in triage. The hospital took blood tests, heart checks and did further tests. Tracey was admitted to a general ward at around 1am, while they waited for the results.

On the Tuesday morning Tracey was told that she had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). She was moved to a cancer ward, and had more blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy to confirm AML. Tracey was offered a research drug trial, and started her chemotherapy ten days after her diagnosis.

Despite the poor prognosis for AML patients, Tracey’s story is a remarkable one of success. The drugs she was given on the research trial were effective and after 6 months of chemotherapy, hospital stays and self-isolating, she is now in remission.

Tracey said: “It is so important to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia amongst both the general public and healthcare professionals, particularly GPs, and I hope that the Spot Leukaemia campaign will help to achieve this. Looking back, I was experiencing a lot of the most common symptoms of leukaemia without realising. The sooner people can be diagnosed and begin their treatment journey the better.”

Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK said, “It’s extremely worrying that less than 1% of Brits are able to identify the most common symptoms of leukaemia, when 28 people are diagnosed each day in the UK. People underestimate their risk by thinking that leukaemia is a childhood disease. In reality, both incidence and mortality rates rise sharply after the age of 55. Raising awareness in this age group is critical in order to treat it early and effectively; and ultimately to improve survival rates overall.”

A lack of awareness of which age groups are most at risk from leukaemia is also concerning, with 43% of respondents thinking that leukaemia is most common in the under 24s.[7]

Whilst it is true that leukaemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, leukaemia incidence rates rise sharply after the age of 55 and 38% of all new diagnoses occur in those over 75.[8] The survey found that only 2% of Brits think that leukaemia is most common in those over 75. The Spot Leukaemia campaign particularly wants to increase awareness among those who are over 65, as this age group is the most likely to be diagnosed with leukaemia.

Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, Chief Executive of Leukaemia Care said, “Our recent YouGov statistics have provided us with further information on why our Spot Leukaemia campaign is so important. This will be our sixth year in running the campaign and the recent findings of less than 1% UK public are not able to identify the four most common symptoms of leukaemia is extremely worrying. Early diagnosis of leukaemia can improve survival. With over 10,000 people being diagnosed every year with a leukaemia, this shows just how important it is to continue to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms and how much work needs to be done.

“We know that our new Spot Leukaemia video may ruffle some feathers but in order to raise awareness we needed to create something that will fly. It’s crucial that if you think you have fatigue, bruising or bleeding or repeated infections that you contact your GP and ask for a blood test. It’s as simple as that and we will continue to parrot-on about it.”

[1] Survey by YouGov Plc. on behalf of Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care, 4th-5th August 2022 using a representative sample size of 2134 adults from across the UK.

[2] Less than 1% of respondents could identify the following  four symptoms of leukaemia: fatigue (extreme tiredness), unusual bruising, unusual bleeding, repeated infections. Survey by YouGov Plc. on behalf of Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care, 4th-5th August 2022 using a representative sample size of 2134 adults from across the UK.

[3] 53.5% – 5 year survival rate across all leukaemia types and age groups, Office for National Statistics, Cancer survival by stage at diagnosis for England, 2019.

[4] NCRAS – Haematological cancers

[5] 42% of respondents could not identify any of the following four symptoms of leukaemia: fatigue (extreme tiredness), unusual bruising, unusual bleeding, repeated infections. Survey by YouGov Plc. on behalf of Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care, 4th-5th August 2022 using a representative sample size of 2134 adults from across the UK.

[6]  Survey by YouGov Plc. on behalf of Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care, 4th-5th August 2022 using a representative sample size of 2134 adults from across the UK.

[7] Survey by YouGov Plc. on behalf of Leukaemia UK and Leukaemia Care, 4th-5th August 2022 using a representative sample size of 2134 adults from across the UK.

[8] Cancer Research UK, leukaemia diagnosis by age, 2016-2018

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