Leukemia is a cancer that affects the bone marrow, which produces blood cells. In leukemia the marrow starts making too many abnormal white blood cells called leukemia cells. These cells don't work properly, and they don't die off as they should. As they continue to multiply, they can crowd out normal blood cells.
Leukemia does not always cause noticeable symptoms. Whether a person with leukemia has symptoms may depend on the type of leukemia.
- Acute forms of leukemia progress quickly, and the abnormal leukemia cells don't function well at all. As a result, people with acute leukemia often feel very ill and go to the doctor because of their symptoms. Acute forms include acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
- Chronic forms of leukemia tend to develop slowly, so they may not cause symptoms right away. Chronic forms include chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). These types of leukemia are often found from blood tests done as part of a routine checkup. Many people with chronic leukemia have no symptoms or only vague symptoms before it is diagnosed.
When leukemia causes symptoms, common ones include:
- Fevers or night sweats
- Frequent infections
- Fatigue or weakness that doesn't go away
- Swollen lymph nodes or belly
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Tiny red spots under the skin
- Losing weight for no known reason
- Pain in the bones or joints
In most cases these symptoms are caused by common benign illnesses, not by leukemia. Still, it is important to see your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above. A doctor can do tests to find out what is causing the symptoms.
Created on 11/26/1999
Updated on 12/08/2010
- National Cancer Institute. What you need to know about leukemia.
- Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Leukemia.