Spotting Leukemia: A Guide to Recognizing Symptoms 

According to the National Cancer Institute, a broad term for cancers of the blood cells is leukemia. Whether it grows quickly or slowly, this type of leukemia depends on the blood cell type that becomes cancer. It’s important to note that this type of cancer is most common in children below 15 years old. But it can often occur in adults that are older than 55. 

Leukemia originates in the spongy tissue found inside the bones called the bone marrow. This organ is where blood cells are produced. There is an abnormal production of white blood cells in leukemia. White blood cells protect the body against diseases and fight infections. The white blood cells that don’t function properly are called leukemia cells. They crowd out the healthy food cells by multiplying rapidly, reducing red blood cells. Leukemia may be one of the most common illnesses in the world, but it’s essential to know the significant risks of it to your overall health. So for awareness, we’ve listed 10 symptoms of leukemia to look out for:

Bone or joint pain

People have bone or joint pain when they have myelodysplastic syndromes and leukemia. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, this bone pain is commonly felt in the legs and arms’ long bones, breastbone, and ribs. Swelling of the large joints and joint pain, like the shoulders and hips, sometimes starts several weeks after bone pain ends. 

Sometimes, people suffering from chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and hairy cell leukemia (HCL) feel full or have pain below the ribs on their left side. This occurs when the spleen is built up by cancer cells, causing it to enlarge or swell. Moreover, leukemic cells can stimulate pain receptors in the joints or bones because they can cause a production increase of cytokines or certain chemicals.

Excessive sweating

According to Medical News Today, excessive night sweats may be related to leukemia, which may cause you to wake up drenched in sweat, despite staying in a cool and comfortable room. What’s worse is when the person has soaked their clothes and bed sheets due to excessive sweat that it’s difficult to sleep on them. 

The exact mechanism behind night sweats may be related to the immune response of your body to leukemic cells. This can lead to increased production of cytokines or particular chemicals. Excessive sweating results from these particular chemicals and their ability to regulate body temperature. Aside from leukemia, night sweats can also occur in conditions such as hormonal imbalances, infections, and medications.

Shortness of breath

Compared to other symptoms, shortness of breath is a less common symptom of leukemia. According to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, dyspnea or difficulty breathing can occur when leukemia cells clump together with T-cell lymphocytic leukemia around the thymus gland. This can cause pain and difficulty breathing due to the mass of cells present in the middle of the chest. Which is why coughing, painful breathing, and wheezing require medical help immediately.

In some cases, leukemia can cause anemia, wherein there’s a decrease in hemoglobin in the blood. Anemia can result in symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue due to reduced oxygen-carrying capacity. The body may not receive an adequate oxygen supply when there’s a low count of red blood cells. As a result, you may experience feelings of breathlessness, and it can be difficult to breathe correctly.

Enlarged lymph nodes

In leukemia, known as leukemic cells, abnormal white blood cells can multiply and accumulate in the lymph nodes. This causes them to become enlarged and swollen. The presence of enlarged lymph nodes in leukemia can differ depending on the disease’s stage and type. It’s important to note that this symptom is most common in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Sometimes, the swelling of lymph nodes can be tender or cause discomfort; in other cases, it can also be painless.

People with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may have evident swollen lymph nodes above the collarbone, around the groin, under the arms, or on either side of the neck. According to NYU Langone Health, cancerous lymphocytes may enlarge and accumulate in the spleen. As a result, an enlarged spleen can cause you to feel full since it can press on the stomach.

Pale skin

Due to anemia and the reduced production of red blood cells, pale skin becomes one of the most common symptoms of leukemia. Anemia occurs when there’s a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin or when there’s a decrease in the number of red blood cells. This leads to the skin becoming paler than its usual tone. The abnormal white blood cells in leukemia can crowd out the normal cells in the bone marrow; this includes the cells responsible for producing red blood cells. 

As a result, this subsequently causes anemia and a decrease in red blood cell count. But aside from leukemia, pale skin can also be related to other health-related conditions. These include nutritional deficiencies and blood disorders. Which is why it’s important to consult your medical practitioner in managing pale skin due to leukemia. 

Frequent infections

Since abnormal white blood cells with leukemia can’t function properly, this leads to an increased susceptibility to infections and a weakened immune system. Leukemic cells can reduce the body’s ability to mount an effective immune response, making leukemia patients more prone to infections. These infections include skin infections, respiratory infections (such as pneumonia), and urinary tract infections.

Moreover, abnormal white blood cells can intervene in producing antibodies and other components of the immune system. This further compromises the body’s ability to fight off infections. You may have repeated bacterial or viral infections with a runny nose, cough, and fever.


Being one of the most common symptoms of leukemia, fatigue can occur due to several reasons. The normal production of healthy blood cells (including red blood cells) can be disrupted by the abnormal production and accumulation of leukemic cells in the bone marrow. A reduced number of red blood cells can result in anemia, despite being able to carry oxygen to organs and tissues. 

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is the fatigue that comes with leukemia or any cancer. This disrupts your daily activities and function since it’s characterized by persistent or extreme exhaustion. According to Leukemia Care, People with CRF may find it difficult to complete simple tasks and often have less energy. 

Unexplained weight loss

This symptom shows a classic sign that, generally, all cancers suggest a more advanced malignancy, according to VeryWell Health. Unintended weight loss and persistent fatigue are just some symptoms that influence some people to choose a diagnosis. Over a span of 6 to 12 months, unexplained weight loss is defined as the loss of 5% or more of your body weight.

This symptom is less common in acute leukemias than in chronic leukemias. The accumulation and abnormal production of leukemic cells can intervene with the normal function of several organs, such as the spleen and liver. This abnormal production can play a role in nutrient processing and metabolism. Additionally, with less change in diet and physical activity level, weight loss in leukemia is more likely to occur.

Easy bruising or bleeding

Aside from abnormal white blood cells crowding out the normal blood cells, they can also include platelets. These play an essential role in blood clotting, and a decrease in the number of platelets can lead to a condition called thrombocytopenia. As a result of bruising or bleeding, bruises can appear on your skin even with little pressure or trauma, which may take longer to heal. 

Moreover, individuals with thrombocytopenia may experience bleeding gums, heavy menstrual bleeding, nosebleeds, and prolonged bleeding from minor wounds and cuts. According to a 2018 patient survey by Leukaemia Care, 24% of patients experienced frequent bruising and bleeding in which diagnosis preceded.

Tiny red spots on your skin

These tiny spots of blood are also known as petechiae. These may appear as red dots on fair and light skin tones. While they may be darker than the surrounding skin and less noticeable on darker skin tones. This symptom usually occurs depending on the location of your blood accumulation. 

Petechiae can occur in areas such as your arms, feet, hands, and legs. Capillaries are the spots under the skin that are caused by tiny broken blood vessels. The disc-shaped cells in your blood called platelets would usually help your blood clot. But your body doesn’t have adequate platelets due to leukemia to cover the broken blood vessels. 


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