Blood cancer: Symptoms explained by healthcare professionals
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Blood cancers occur when abnormal blood cells start growing out of control, interrupting the function of normal blood cells, which fight off infection and produce new blood cells. Treatment will depend on the type of blood cancer you have, your age, how fast the cancer is progressing, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Experiencing unusual itching on the skin with no obvious cause could be an early indicator of your risk.
There are three major types of blood cancer which include leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
These cancers cause your bone marrow and lymphatic system to make blood cells that don’t work as well as they should.
They all affect different types of white blood cells, and they act in different ways.
Itching as a first sign of blood disease or cancer is present in 10 percent to 25 percent of people who develop generalised itching without a rash.
In one study looking at almost 17,000 people, those who had generalised itching were more likely to have an underlying cancer (5.76 times more likely) than those who did not experience itching.
The cancers that were most commonly associated included liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, bile duct cancer, blood-related cancers such as lymphomas and leukaemia’s, and skin cancer.
Most of the time, itching can be clearly tied to a rash, indicating an infection, allergic response, or chronic skin condition such as eczema, said Leukaemia Care.
The health site continued: “If your skin isn’t dry and you can’t find an obvious cause of your persistent itching, make sure you mention it to your GP.
“The exact reason people with leukaemia or lymphoma sometimes develop itchy skin is not conclusively proven and is up for debate in scientific literature.
“Many researchers believe it is caused cytokines; chemicals released into the blood by the body’s immune system.
“When immune cells come into contact with leukaemia or lymphoma cells, they can release cytokines at high levels, causing irritation of nerve endings within the skin and thereby a persistent itch.”
Other blood cancer symptoms can include:
- Weight loss that is unexplained
- Bruising or bleeding that is unexplained
- Lumps or swellings
- Shortness of breath (breathlessness)
- Drenching night sweats
- Infections that are persistent, recurrent or severe
- Fever (38°C or above) that is unexplained
- Pain in your bone, joints or abdominal
- Tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep
- Unusually pale complexion (pallor)
If you are suffering from long-lasting itchy skin which is all over your body and there is no obvious reason for it, it’s essential to speak with a healthcare professional about the possible cause.
A full examination by your GP is necessary to accurately determine the cause and rule out any serious underlying issues.
Although extremely unlikely, a full blood test will be able to establish whether a systemic underlying problem such as blood cancer, thyroid or kidney disease is a possibility.
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