While some people with leukemia will experience obvious signs of the disease, others won’t notice any changes at all— which, oftentimes, is dependent on the type of leukemia they have (acute or chronic). However, the more you can recognize the symptoms of leukemia, the better you can improve your chances of receiving a timely diagnosis and prompt treatment. 

Typically, 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. 

General Symptoms of Leukemia

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)

Less Common Symptoms of Leukemia

Other potential symptoms may include:

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

Symptoms Specific to Each Leukemia Type

As mentioned earlier, specific types of leukemia have specific symptoms. In this section, we’ll talk about what those are. 

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. These symptoms often include:

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

When to Visit the Doctor

It’s important to remember that these symptoms don’t always mean cancer. Sometimes, they are the result of something else entirely. With that said, they shouldn’t be ignored.

Even though some leukemia symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, fatigue, aches and night sweats often resemble the cold, flu or other common illness, it’s important that you pay attention to them. If these symptoms don’t go away at a normal pace (1-2 weeks), or you notice a combination of these symptoms at one time, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers recommends that you make an appointment with your primary care physician.