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Symptoms of Leukemia

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
 
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If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to cancer. Most of these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

Symptoms of leukemia develop as the blood cells stop functioning normally. With acute leukemia, serious infections or easy bleeding or bruising usually prompt a patient to see the doctor. With chronic leukemia, it may take a long time for symptoms to occur. When they do, they may be mild and mimic symptoms of other disorders, with fatigue the most likely symptom or complaint.

Symptoms of Leukemia-related Infections

When white blood cells are no longer able to help fight bacteria, viruses, and other germs, infections occur more often than normal. Common symptoms of leukemia-related infections include the following:

  • Fever, chills
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Minor cuts heal slowly and the area around the cut may become red and swollen
  • Excessive reactions to insect bites

Symptoms of Anemia

If the number of red blood cells drops and anemia occurs, fewer cells are available to carry oxygen throughout the body. This lack of oxygen can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Angina, chest pain
  • Signs of dizziness or lightheadedness, or stroke-like symptoms

Symptoms of Low Platelets

If there are not enough platelets, the blood will not clot properly. Symptoms include the following:

  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums
  • Tiny red spots under the skin
  • Occasionally, excessive clotting and not bleeding may occur as a result of leukemia

Symptoms of Spreading Leukemia Cells

Additional symptoms may develop as leukemia cells move through the body and invade the organs. These include the following:

  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes, liver, or spleen
  • Puffy gums
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the testicles
  • Involvement of the lining of the brain (meninges), with:
    • Headaches
    • Nausea
    • Loss of muscle control
    • Seizures
    • Symptoms of a stroke

Sources:

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Goldman L. Cecil Textbook of Medicine , 21st ed. St. Louis, MO: W.B. Saunders Company; 2000: 944-958.

Rakel R. Conn's Current Therapy 2002, 54th ed. St. Louis, MO: W.B. Saunders Company; 2002: 413-434.



Last reviewed February 2003 by John Erban, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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