Early Symptoms of Leukemia

Symptoms of Leukemia Can Vary and Also Mimic Other Common Illnesses

Dr. Alan Feiner leukemia oncologistLike most types of cancers, the earlier you can diagnose and begin treatment for leukemia, the more likely you are to have a successful outcome. However, early symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia and are often easily confused with other, more common, illnesses. To help raise awareness of the symptoms to watch out for, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), offers a breakdown of symptoms depending on the type of leukemia. 

“Early symptoms of leukemia can be very broad and also similar to any number of other illnesses and diseases,” said Dr. Alan Feiner, an oncologist and hematologist at RMCC. “For this reason, it’s important to seek medical advice if you have concerns.”

Early Symptoms of Leukemia

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

There are also a handful of general symptoms of leukemia that are less common. “Less common symptoms of leukemia include vomiting, aches in the arms, legs, or hips, pale skin, swollen gums or lymph nodes, and an enlarged spleen or liver,” Dr. Feiner said.

Faster growing forms of leukemia are called “acute,” and the symptoms are usually more pronounced and identifiable. Because of the speed at which these leukemias advance, patients experiencing any of the following symptoms should not delay in seeking medical care:

Symptoms of Acute Leukemias (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and Acute Myeloid Leukemia)

  • Bruising easily and/or easy bleeding
  • Blood clotting issues, such as frequent or severe nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • Anemia
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Recurring or chronic infections, often with fever
  • Joint and bone pain

Many of these early leukemia symptoms are the result of a shortage of normal blood cells, which can fortunately be identified fairly easily with a blood test.

Symptoms of Chronic Leukemias

technician examines blood sampleChronic leukemias differ from acute forms of the disease in that they are slower growing. Hence, symptoms of chronic leukemia are generally less intense and less sudden in their onset. Chronic leukemias include chronic lymphocytic leukemia, hairy cell leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia. It’s not uncommon to have no symptoms at all. However, these types of leukemia are usually discovered in routine blood tests because they cause mild elevations in white blood cell counts, or slight decreases in red and white blood cells and platelets, in the case of hairy cell leukemia. Additionally, cutaneous leukemias can cause skin lesions with severe itching.

Chronic myeloid leukemia is a type of chronic leukemia that afflicts older adults with more frequency than younger adults or children. Symptoms of chronic myeloid leukemia include:

  • 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

At What Point Should You Seek Medical Attention?

“Not everyone with any or all of these symptoms has leukemia, so there’s no need to assume the worst,” said Dr. Feiner. “But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them, either.”

Because the early symptoms of leukemia can mimic so many other conditions, most of which are relatively harmless, people experiencing them should be observant about the length of time the symptoms last without improvement. Symptoms that don’t improve within two weeks or that continue to recur, even if there are periods of improvement between flare-ups, are worth discussing with your primary care physician.

Learn how leukemia is diagnosed. If you’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, find out more about leukemia treatment at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.

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