Background: UK policy aims to improve cancer outcomes by promoting early diagnosis, which for many haematological malignancies is particularly challenging as the pathways leading to diagnosis can be difficult and prolonged.
Methods: A survey about symptoms was sent to patients in England with acute leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Symptoms and barriers to first help seeking were examined for each subtype, along with the relative risk of waiting >3 months' time from symptom onset to first presentation to a doctor, controlling for age, sex and deprivation.
Results: Of the 785 respondents, 654 (83.3%) reported symptoms; most commonly for NHL (95%) and least commonly for CLL (67.9%). Some symptoms were frequent across diseases while others were more disease-specific. Overall, 16% of patients (n=114) waited >3 months before presentation; most often in CML (24%) and least in acute leukaemia (9%). Significant risk factors for >3 months to presentation were: night sweats (particularly CLL and NHL), thirst, abdominal pain/discomfort, looking pale (particularly acute leukaemias), and extreme fatigue/tiredness (particularly CML and NHL); and not realising symptom(s) were serious.
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate important differences by subtype, which should be considered in strategies promoting early presentation. Not realising the seriousness of some symptoms indicates a worrying lack of public awareness.