Driving diagnosis: Dr Judith Richardson

Dr Judith Richardson, who is a GP and a myeloma patient, shares her unique perspective of improving myeloma diagnosis

Other News // 24th September 2021

This Blood Cancer Awareness Month, we’re turning the spotlight on the dedicated band of consultants, GPs and laboratory scientists working away behind the scenes to break down the barriers to early detection, speed up referrals and ensure myeloma isn’t missed.

We caught up with Dr Judith Richardson, a GP from Edinburgh, myeloma patient and valued member of the Myeloma UK Early Diagnosis Steering Committee about the challenges of diagnosing myeloma and how she is helping fellow GPs to spot the signs.

What is your role in myeloma diagnosis?

GPs see patients at an early stage in their disease – when they have a vague illness – and investigate through a series of tests and questions. By keeping myeloma at the front of our minds, we can investigate further to determine whether a patient needs to be referred to haematology for suspected myeloma.

What is most important for a timely diagnosis?

Having a high index of suspicion and just considering myeloma in your diagnosis. Myeloma often presents with vague signs and symptoms that don’t alert you to a myeloma diagnosis. You need a high level of suspicion in the early stages and an understanding of the combination of symptoms and blood tests that indicate myeloma is a possibility.

How have you been involved in the Myeloma UK early diagnosis work and why?

I have sat on the Early Diagnosis Steering Committee and various working groups. I have also been involved in developing the BMJ learning module and the GP toolkit which includes the GP Myeloma Diagnostic Tool and the new Myeloma and MGUS GP Guide. I was diagnosed with myeloma and AL amyloidosis in 2012 and had chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant in 2013. I ran the London Marathon in April 2019 for Myeloma UK and it was following this that I was approached and asked if I would be involved with Myeloma UK. As a patient, and for my family, I have found the information and resources provided by Myeloma UK really great. I’m grateful for the work they do in researching new treatments and wanted to help as best I can in supporting the work Myeloma UK does.

You were involved in the development of the BMJ online learning module and Myeloma and MGUS GP Guide – who are they for and why?

The module and guides are for anyone who might be first point of contact for patients presenting with myeloma. Although primarily aimed at the GP and GP Registrars, they would be useful for other members of the primary healthcare team who might encounter these patients such as ANPs (advance nurse practitioners) or MSK APPs (muscular skeletal advanced physiotherapy practitioners).

What does best practice in myeloma diagnosis look like?

Probably sending away a lot more myeloma screens than perhaps we are already doing for those patients that come back with vague symptoms and signs. So that once the possibility of myeloma or blood cancer enters a healthcare professional’s mind, they ensure that all the recommended tests are ordered at the first blood test to avoid unnecessary delay by having to bring patients back for further testing.

What would you recommend other GPs do if they want to learn about myeloma?

The BMJ online learning module would be a great starting place but also the professional resources that are available on the Myeloma UK website.

What do you think Myeloma UK should do next to assist GPs in recognising myeloma?

The resources that have been developed are being well received by those who have seen and used them, so I think it’s important to get these out to the wider GP community through educational events and GP networks, which I know is already happening.

You can learn more about myeloma diagnosis, our Early Diagnosis Research Programme and the educational material available for HCPs on the Myeloma UK website.