Signs and symptoms of leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer affecting the body’s blood-forming tissues, more commonly known as the bone marrow and lymphatic systems. There are different types of leukemia—some occur more commonly in children, some occur more commonly in adults. The reason that leukemia is so bad is because it affects the body’s natural fighting cells (the cells that make up the immune system), white blood cells (WBCs). White blood cells normally grow and divide as the body needs them; in people with leukemia, the white blood cells that are being produced are abnormal and don’t function properly or how the body needs them to. It is important to catch this disease as early as possible; this is true for many diseases. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step of this lengthy process.

Classifications of Leukemia
Leukemia is classified by both its progression and by the type of white blood cell that is infected. Any combination of these can be a type of leukemia.


  • Acute Leukemia – in this type of leukemia, the abnormal cells are immature blood cells. The cells are not able to carry out their normal work, and they multiply rapidly. In this case the disease worsens very quickly. Acute leukemia necessitates aggressive and timely treatment.
  • Chronic Leukemia – this type of leukemia involves mature white blood cells. They replicate more slowly, and can function for a certain amount of time. Some forms of this type of leukemia can go undiagnosed for years because it can be symptomless.

Type of WBC Infected

  • Lymphocytic Leukemia – the lymphoid cells or lymphocytes, which make up lymphatic tissue, are affected in this type of leukemia. Lymphatic tissue makes up the immune system.
  • Myelogenous Leukemia – the myeloid cells are affected in this type of leukemia. Myeloid cells give rise to red blood cells, other white blood cells, and platelet-producing cells.

Signs and Symptoms of Leukemia
Some of the symptoms may vary, depending on the type and stage of leukemia. Symptoms that may be experienced include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent infections or illnesses
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Bleeding easily or bruising just as easily
  • Slow healing of cuts
  • Tiny red spots on the skin (petechiae)
  • Excessive sweating, particularly at night (night sweats)
  • Confusion
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Seizures
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Anemia
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Malaise (general body discomfort)
  • Nosebleeds
  • Digestive bleeding
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • Bone and/or joint pain
  • Eye or skin sores
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abnormal blood test results (higher or lower than normal levels of white blood cells)
  • Shortness of breath during exertion
  • Other breathing difficulties
  • Swollen testicles in men

See a Doctor…
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to seek medical attention so if it is leukemia, treatment can be started as soon as possible. There are different types of treatments for leukemia. The options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, and biotherapy. Unfortunately, chronic leukemia goes undiagnosed for long periods of time because it is hard to notice the symptoms; it is usually only found with a routine blood test. To determine what specific type of anemia a patient might have, there are a variety of test that can be performed, including a blood test or culture, bone marrow biopsy, spinal tap, bone scan, CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, EKG, or chest x-ray.

Last updated on Jan 2nd, 2011 and filed under Cancer Research. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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