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25th May 2024

The importance of early diagnosis

Pritpal Kaur was a healthy and active 72-year-old when she suddenly started experiencing pain across her ribs. It was the first in a series of symptoms that led to an unexpected cancer diagnosis. She shares her story below to raise awareness about multiple myeloma during European Week Against Cancer.

“Shortly after I noticed the ribcage pain, I began having back pain, chest tightness and weakness in my hands. I also felt really tired, which wasn’t like me,” Pritpal tells This Is MedTech. “I went to the GP but he said it was old age and gave me some painkillers.”

Over the next several months, Pritpal’s symptoms worsened. She couldn’t take a full breath and everything ached. One day she couldn’t even get out of bed. “At my daughter’s insistence, I went back to the doctor many times. She kept pushing for answers as I’d previously been quite a fit woman,” she notes. “They did numerous tests but found nothing.”

Doctors used medical technology such as blood tests, a CT scan and ultrasound scans to rule out gallstones, kidney stones and internal bleeding. “Finally, I was sent to ambulatory care, where I had more blood tests – they found high levels of protein,” explains Pritpal. This was the first clue that it could be multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer that affects the blood and bones.

She then had a DEXA scan which revealed significant bone damage. A DEXA scan is a low dose x-ray that can see how dense your bones are. “At that point, they said it was myeloma. I had a bone marrow biopsy, which confirmed this,” she says. “I was shocked because I’d always lived a healthy lifestyle. I was advised to start treatment as soon as possible so that my bones wouldn’t become more brittle. If I waited too long, I wouldn’t be able to walk.”

It’s often difficult to diagnose multiple myeloma (or myeloma) early because the common symptoms like back, hip and rib pain, fatigue, recurring infections, numbness in hands and feet and kidney damage are similar to those of other conditions. However, the earlier you catch it and start treatment, the better.

This is why Pritpal and her family are so passionate about raising awareness. Indeed, her husband and daughter recently ran the London marathon to do just that, with their story making the news. “If people know the symptoms, they can ask for the right tests and get an early diagnosis,” says Pritpal.

While myeloma is incurable, treatment can be very effective at controlling the disease and symptoms, according to Myeloma UK. Pritpal is responding very well to a new medicine that she’s been on for six months. “I’m the first person in the UK to take it,” she comments. “My blood tests are showing no active cancer and I’m feeling physically stronger.”

She still has fatigue and down days, but Pritpal is feeling hopeful. She’s keen to return to work soon and start being more active again. “I’ve always been told that I don’t act my age,” she laughs. “I’m young at heart. It’s important to be positive, strong and keep on going!”

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