What are the symptoms of leukemia or blood cancer? + Complete guidance
Symptoms of leukemia or blood cancer may be very mild at first and include fatigue, unexplained fever, abdominal pain, headache, heavy bleeding (such as nosebleeds), unwanted weight loss, and frequent infections. However, these symptoms may occur due to a wide range of causes. If it is related to leukemia, the symptoms may point to some type of disease that is already present, but many symptoms overlap and are not indicative of this particular case. Leukemia cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone, but being aware of some of them can indicate when further evaluation is needed. In this article from the section diseasesHello doctor, we are going to examine the symptoms of leukemia.
Symptoms of leukemia in adults and children are similar. The most common symptoms are:
- Frequent infections
- Growth of lymph nodes
- Unexplained fever
- night sweats
- Excessive discharge and bleeding
- abdominal pain
- joint’s pain
- Headache and other neurological symptoms
- Unwanted weight loss
Because many of these symptoms are vague and non-specific, people tend to ignore them and say that they feel like they have a cold or that they have been feeling unwell lately.
It is harder to detect the symptoms of leukemia in younger children who can only communicate through crying. The only other symptoms may include loss of appetite, refusal to eat, or feigned numbness due to joint pain.
Some of the symptoms of leukemia are easier to understand because of the special blood cells produced by the bone marrow, because many of the symptoms are related to each other or to a lack of these cells.
Leukemia affects white blood cells, but frequently affects other cells produced by the bone marrow, by interfering with the production or accumulation of bone marrow. The cells produced by the bone marrow are:
- Red blood cells (erythrocytes): Red blood cells carry oxygen to body tissues. A low number of red blood cells is related to anemia.
- White blood cells: White blood cells are responsible for fighting infections due to the presence of organisms such as bacteria and viruses. Low white blood cells are known as leukopenia. A type of white blood cell that is especially important in fighting bacteria that cause infections such as pneumonia.
- Blood platelets: Platelets are cells that are produced by the bone marrow and are responsible for blood clotting. Lack of blood platelets is known as thrombocytopenia.
Fatigue is one of the symptoms of leukemia
Excessive fatigue is a very common symptom of leukemia. Although there are many reasons for fatigue, cancer fatigue is more common than the usual fatigue that you feel when you lack sleep. Cancer-related fatigue often does not improve with adequate night’s sleep and normal daily activities.
Cancer can cause fatigue in different ways. Blood cancer associated with anemia reduces oxygen to cells and tissues and causes shortness of breath and weakness. Cancer can also be produced serotonin and reduce tryptophan, which are effective in physical and mental performance.
Even when they are present normally or in excess, white blood cancer cells (leukemia) may not be able to adequately help your body fight infection. In addition, blood cancer cells can recognize other types of white blood cells in the bone marrow and prevent the body from getting enough nutrition.
As a result, people with leukemia are often prone to infections. Common sites of infection include the mouth and throat, skin, lungs, urinary tract and bladder and the area around the anus.
Growth of lymph nodes
Sometimes, blood cancer cells can collect in the lymph nodes, causing them to become swollen and thin. People may be able to feel abnormally enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin, but lymph nodes that are not directly palpable can also lead to cancer. For example, enlarged lymph nodes in the chest cannot be felt, but may lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing.
Bruising or heavy bleeding is one of the symptoms of leukemia
When blood cancer cells invade the bone marrow, it can lead to decreased production of platelets, which is known as thrombocytopenia. Platelets are actually parts of cells that, as soon as an injury occurs in a blood vessel, quickly come together and stop the bleeding.
Thrombocytopenia associated with leukemia can have various forms, including easy bleeding, skin spots, heavy menstruation, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood in the urine, and blood in the stool.
Sudden and unexplained fever
The presence of fever without an obvious source, such as an infection, can be a sign of any cancer, especially blood-related cancers such as leukemia. A fever of unknown origin is defined as a fever higher than 101 degrees that often lasts longer than three weeks without any clear explanation.
Fevers associated with leukemia can have common causes, including underlying infections. In some cases, cancer cells can cause the body to release chemicals that stimulate the brain to raise body temperature.
Night sweats are one of the symptoms of leukemia
night sweats It can be a sign of cancer, especially blood-related cancers like leukemia. Unlike the profuse sweating of menopause, the night sweats associated with leukemia are often noticeable. While night sweats are more common, they can also occur during the day and never feel normal.
White blood cells may accumulate in the liver and spleen and cause abdominal swelling and discomfort. This type of swelling can reduce your appetite or make you full quickly. Affecting the spleen often causes pain in the upper abdomen, while affecting the liver often causes pain in the left side of the abdomen.
Bone and joint pain is a symptom of leukemia
Bone and joint pain is common in areas where there is a lot of bone marrow, such as the hip or chest. This causes the bone marrow to become crowded with too many abnormal blood cells. In children, parents may notice that the child limps or walks abnormally without any injury.
Headache and other nervous symptoms
Headache and other neurological symptoms such as seizures, dizziness, visual changes, nausea and vomiting occur when blood cells attack the fluid around the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid).
Unwanted weight loss
Unwanted weight loss is a classic symptom of all cancers and generally indicates an advanced tumor. In some cases, persistent fatigue and unwanted weight loss are symptoms that prompt some people to find the cause.
Unwanted weight loss is defined as a loss of more than 5% of your body weight over six to twelve months. These symptoms are more related to chronic leukemia.
Types of leukemia
While the above symptoms may appear in almost any type of blood cancer, there are symptoms that are more common in different types of this disease.
Acute leukemia is characterized by immature white blood cells that do not function properly, leading to more symptoms. In chronic leukemia, the cells may be partially functional, and thus, there may be less obvious symptoms.
Symptoms related to different types of blood cancer include:
Acute lymphocytic leukemia
Symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia often develop rapidly over a few days or weeks. And if they spread to the central nervous system, they may sometimes cause symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness. And when they spread in the chest, they may cause shortness of breath and cough.
Symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia
The first symptom of chronic leukemia is often pain and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin. Other symptoms may develop gradually and cause symptoms including fever, chills, night sweats and weight loss.
In about 5% of the diagnoses of this type of cancer, it will turn into an aggressive lymphatic disease called Richter’s syndrome, which is characterized by extensive lymphadenopathy and the growth of white blood cell tumors in different parts of the body.
Symptoms of acute bone marrow leukemia
Acute bone marrow leukemia, like acute lymphoblastic leukemia, often presents rapidly with the symptoms discussed above. In this type of cancer, immature blood cells (cancer cells) can block blood vessels. This can lead to symptoms such as stroke with visual changes or weakness on one side of the body.
A condition called Shireen syndrome may also occur. This disease is characterized by frequent fever and the formation of white blood cells in the subcutaneous skin layer, which leads to painful injuries on the scalp, arms, neck and chest.
Acute promyelocytic leukemia
Acute promyelocytic leukemia is present in about 10% of acute cases, and the most important symptom is excessive blood clotting. This type may cause nosebleeds, heavy periods and bruising, pain in the leg and leg muscles (due to excessive stretching of the veins), and sudden onset of chest pain and shortness of breath, which can also be associated with pulmonary embolism.
Symptoms of chronic bone marrow leukemia
Chronic bone marrow leukemia is often suspected before any symptoms appear and when the results of a complete blood count (CBC) are abnormal. Even after diagnosis, people with this type of cancer may have months or years before the blood cancer cells grow rapidly.
Symptoms of chronic promyelocytic leukemia
Chronic promyelocytic leukemia often affects many parts of the body, not just the bone marrow. The accumulation of monocytes in the spleen leads to an enlarged spleen, which can cause pain in the upper abdomen and early satiety. Accumulation of monocytes can also cause an enlarged liver and lead to upper abdominal pain.
Problems and complications of leukemia
Several problems can occur with leukemia, some of which are related to the lack of different types of white blood cells. Some common concerns include:
A decrease in the level of white blood cells reduces the body’s ability to fight infections. And it can lead to infections such as urinary tract infection, pneumonia, and skin infections, which can quickly lead to septicemia (a common infection with low blood pressure and decreased level of consciousness).
During leukemia treatment, immunosuppression can allow specific microorganisms to grow and become life threatening agents, including chicken pox, varicella, and aspergillus.
Bleeding is more common when the platelet count is low. And bleeding in special areas of the body can be threatening. These include:
- Brain hemorrhage: Bleeding in the brain can lead to rapid onset of confusion or loss of consciousness.
- Pulmonary bleeding: Bleeding in the lungs leads to shortness of breath and severe bleeding.
- Gastrointestinal Bleeding: Bleeding in the stomach or intestines can lead to vomiting and a rapid drop in blood and blood pressure.
When should you see a doctor?
It is important to see a doctor if any of the above symptoms occur. Trust your understanding. Because many of the symptoms of leukemia are non-specific, they may also be signs of another serious condition.
Some symptoms, such as severe headaches, other neurological symptoms, or night sweats, require immediate attention.
Some other symptoms, such as enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, should be evaluated (even if you think there is a logical reason for them). Because chronic lymphocytic leukemia often has no early symptoms, it is important to see your doctor for a regular physical exam.