Signs and Symptoms of Leukemia

Not everyone with leukemia experiences symptoms in the early stages, depending on the type of the disease (acute or chronic).  Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), tend to have a quick onset and can show more and recognizable symptoms early in the disease, whereas the chronic (slow onset) leukemias, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), tend to have delayed or mild symptoms. While there are more specific symptoms for each type of leukemia, there are some general signs and symptoms they share. Some general symptoms of leukemia include:

  • Fever, chills
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Bone/joint pain
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Petechiae (small red spots under the skin)

Other potential symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Aches in the arms, legs, or hips
  • Swollen gums or lymph nodes
  • Enlarged spleen or liver

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

AML is a fast-growing form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It is the most common type of acute leukemia. Symptoms specific to this type of leukemia include:

  • Frequent infections and fever
  • Anemia
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Joint and bone pain

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

Most signs and symptoms of ALL are caused by a shortage of normal blood cells, which happens when leukemia cells crowd out normal blood-making cells. These specific blood issues, anemia (low red blood cells) leukopenia (low white blood cells), and thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets), typically show up on blood tests. However, they can also cause symptoms that may include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Recurring or chronic infections
  • Bruising easily
  • Blood clotting issues such as frequent or severe nosebleeds and bleeding gums

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

CLL most commonly affects older adults and most people have no early symptoms. Those who do develop symptoms may experience:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Enlarged spleen and/or lymph nodes
  • Recurring or chronic infections in areas such as the skin, lungs or kidneys

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Unlike the three other main types of leukemia, CML has a significant difference that sets it apart from the rest. In most cases, patients with CML have a gene mutation called the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome. Typically, CML symptoms are vague and caused by other things. They include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats and/or fever
  • Bone pain
  • Abdominal pain or sense of “fullness”
  • Enlarged spleen

Some leukemia symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, fatigue, aches and night sweats often resemble the cold, flu or other common illness. If symptoms don’t go away at a normal pace (1-2 weeks), or you notice a combination of these symptoms at one time, make an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis.