Blood cancer warning sign that may be mistaken for common dental problem

By Staff 6 Min Read

Patients have been admitted to hospital after experiencing a side effect most associated with gum disease or other dental problems. However, the symptom could also be a warning sign of acute myeloid leukaemia

A little-known symptom of blood cancer may occur when brushing your teeth – but is often ignored.

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), aka cancer of the white blood cells, is notorious for progressing ‘quickly and aggressively’. In fact, according to the NHS, the disease usually requires ‘immediate treatment’ and causes more than 2,700 deaths in the UK alone each year.

Symptoms tend to develop over a few weeks and will start to become more severe – but one specific warning sign can easily be mistaken for a common dental problem. Here’s everything you should look out for and when you should see a doctor…

Leading charity Cancer Research UK says AML may cause a person to ‘bruise or bleed easily’ – including bleeding gums when brushing your teeth. This is often caused by thrombocytopenia – a deficiency of platelets in the blood that can slow down blood clotting after injury.

Experts over at MyLeukemiaTeam have reported several patients with this symptom, with one person writing: “I was recently admitted to the hospital for bleeding gums. My gums started to bleed, and it became very difficult for the doctors to get it under control. It was a very trying time.”

Of course, bleeding gums can be caused by a slew of dental issues such as over-brushing, brushing too hard, flossing too much, or even swapping to a new toothbrush. Bleeding can also be caused by a build-up of plaque that may irritate and inflame the gums – and could lead to gum disease and tooth loss.

If you’re experiencing bleeding gums when cleaning your teeth, speak to a dentist. You should also be brushing your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day and flossing to remove food from in between the teeth to minimise plaque build-up and gum disease.

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The NHS states that ‘unusual and frequent’ bleeding may also result in having nosebleeds. Again, this is likely due to a less serious issue such as an allergy or infection – but should still be monitored.

If you’re experiencing the following symptoms and are concerned you have AML, you should visit your GP. This includes:

  • Looking pale
  • Tiredness
  • Breathlessness
  • Frequent infections
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Flat red/ purple spots on the skin
  • The feeling of fullness/ discomfort in your tummy
  • Bone and joint paint
  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpit or groin

If you or a loved one is struggling with cancer, you can get support here.

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