Getting a cancer diagnosis is never easy, but being aware of the symptoms and starting a treatment plan early is vital for improving the chances of recovery and quality of life. While breast, colon and lung cancer are the top 3 most common cancers in Singapore1; in 2016, it was revealed that there are roughly 2,000 new cases of blood cancers (including leukaemia and lymphoma) reported every year, with at least six new patients being diagnosed daily2.
Unfortunately, leukaemia is a condition that is often incidentally diagnosed through a physical exam or routine blood tests. Depending on its growth rate, leukaemia could also be chronic or acute, with the latter being more fast-growing and obvious in its symptoms.
The good news is, leukaemia is a highly manageable condition that can be treated to prevent it from coming back. Regardless of which type of leukaemia, whether it be acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML), acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL), chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML) or chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), getting the right diagnosis is the first step to overcoming cancer.
Learn more about the not-so-obvious symptoms of this cancer and what to do next if you are feeling concerned.
Symptoms Of Leukaemia
The symptoms pointing to leukaemia can vary depending on its type, but some remain the same across all age groups. Many of these symptoms are often mistaken as the common flu or some other minor condition, but the primary ones to look out for are:
1. Fatigue and weakness
2. A tendency to bruise or bleed easily
3. Susceptibility to infections
4. Loss of weight and appetite
Other common symptoms include night sweats, unplanned weight loss, and experiencing pain under the ribs on the left side.
As mentioned earlier, the results of physical exams and blood testing can sometimes reveal symptoms of the disease and any abnormalities in the number of white blood cells in the body. However, to fully ascertain the type of leukaemia, more comprehensive tests are required.
One such test is called bone marrow biopsy, whereby a bone marrow sample is taken from the patient and analysed for a fuller diagnosis. This type of test can help identify the type of leukaemia present, its growth rate and proliferation, or how far it has spread in the body. Other tests are also used in conjunction with a biopsy, namely imaging tests, which provide info about the progression of leukaemia in the body, and more comprehensive blood tests like complete blood count (CBC) or full blood count (FBC), differential, and peripheral blood smear – all of which can be conducted as part of a comprehensive cancer screening test in Singapore.
When To Seek Help From A Doctor
Given that there are multiple types of leukaemia, symptoms can vary from one person to another. As a recommendation, if you are feeling unsure about your symptoms and are concerned that you might have leukaemia, it is best to speak to a healthcare expert and seek their advice.
In addition, be aware that there exist risk factors that increase your chances of developing leukaemia. These factors can depend on one’s age, gender, family history, and existing blood disorders:
Men are more likely to develop the disease compared to women.
When it comes to age, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) or chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) can develop in people aged 65 years and older. On the other hand, acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) mostly occurs in people aged 20 years old and under.
If you’re already experiencing specific blood disorders, such as polycythaemia vera or idiopathic myelofibrosis, your chances of developing leukaemia are much higher.
While most types of leukaemia have no familial links, you can have a higher risk of developing the disease if you are a first-degree relative of someone who has CLL, or you have an identical twin who has or had experienced ALL or AML.
Those who are considered high risk are advised to consider getting a cancer screening test that’s specialised in diagnosing leukaemia. Upon diagnosis, the doctor can then further advise on proven treatment options including chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a bone marrow transplant to get the symptoms under control.
When it comes to any disease, the sooner they’re discovered, the better. Currently, there is no cure for leukaemia; however, early detection allows for earlier treatment, making a patient’s prognosis much more positive. This fact does not just apply to leukaemia but other cancers, and it is crucial to get tested as soon as you suspect that it may be present in your loved ones, your children, or even yourself. Talking to a specialist is vital in properly diagnosing the type of leukaemia and knowing the factors that may be causing the symptoms experienced.
Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone and that help is not out of reach. Our specialists here at ICS provide cancer diagnosis and treatment in Singapore and can help you in potentially detecting leukaemia at its early stages and treating it as soon as possible.
1. Singapore Cancer Society. (2021). Common Types of Cancer in Singapore. Retrieved 14 July 2021, from https://www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg/learn-about-cancer/cancer-basics/common-types-of-cancer-in-singapore.html
2. When cancer runs through the blood: What you need to know about leukaemia. (2021). Retrieved 14 July 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/when-cancer-runs-through-the-blood-what-you-need-to-know-about-leukaemia