Symptoms of adult chronic and acute leukaemia before diagnosis: large primary care case-control studies using electronic records
British Journal of General Practice
Royal College of General Practitioners
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BACKGROUND: Leukaemia is the eleventh commonest UK cancer. The four main subtypes have different clinical profiles, particularly between chronic and acute types. AIM: To identify the symptom profiles of chronic and acute leukaemia in adults in primary care. DESIGN AND SETTING: Matched case-control studies using Clinical Practice Research Datalink records. METHOD: Putative symptoms of leukaemia were identified in the year before diagnosis. Conditional logistic regression was used for analysis, and positive predictive values (PPVs) were calculated to estimate risk. RESULTS: Of cases diagnosed between 2000 and 2009, 4655 were aged ≥40 years (2877 chronic leukaemia (CL), 937 acute leukaemia (AL), 841 unreported subtype). Ten symptoms were independently associated with CL, the three strongest being: lymphadenopathy (odds ratio [OR] 22, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 13 to 36), weight loss (OR 3.0, 95% CI = 2.1 to 4.2), and bruising (OR 2.3, 95% CI = 1.6 to 3.2). Thirteen symptoms were independently associated with AL, the three strongest being: nosebleeds and/or bleeding gums (OR 5.7, 95% CI = 3.1 to 10), fever (OR 5.3, 95% CI = 2.7 to 10), and fatigue (OR 4.4, 95% CI = 3.3 to 6.0). No individual symptom or combination of symptoms had a PPV >1%. CONCLUSION: The symptom profiles of CL and AL have both overlapping and distinct features. This presents a dichotomy for GPs: diagnosis, by performing a full blood count, is easy; however, the symptoms of leukaemia are non-specific and of relatively low risk. This explains why many leukaemia diagnoses are unexpected findings.
This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (Grant Reference Number RP-PG-0608– 10045). Fiona M Walter is part-funded by an NIHR Clinician Scientist award. Richard D Neal is part-funded by Public Health Wales and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Willie Hamilton is supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health.
This is the final version of the article. Available from Royal College of General Practitioners via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 66 (644): e182 - e188
Place of publication