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Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the body’s blood-forming tissues. In many cases, the cancerous changes originate in white blood cells, which are produced in the bone marrow to help protect the body from viruses, bacteria and other harmful invaders. As the cancerous cells rapidly grow and divide, they can begin to crowd out healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, making it more difficult for the healthy cells to carry out their normal functions. Many of the early signs of leukemia result from these harmful effects.

Although there are several different types of leukemia, the condition can be broadly categorized as acute or chronic. Chronic leukemia develops slowly over time, while acute leukemia tends to strike quickly and may prompt a sudden onset of symptoms.

Common leukemia symptoms

One of the first signs of leukemia is often a low white blood cell count, a low red blood cell count or a low platelet count, which would show up in the results of a routine blood test. Depending on the type of cells affected, a number of symptoms can develop. For instance, a decrease in healthy white blood cells, which fight off germs, could lead to more frequent and severe infections. A decrease in red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the blood, could cause unexplained fatigue, headaches, chills, dizziness, pale skin and shortness of breath. A decrease in the number of platelets, which help the blood clot, could cause excessive bruising, bleeding gums, frequent nosebleeds and heavy menstrual periods.

Other possible signs of leukemia include:

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fever 
  • Liver or spleen enlargement
  • Stomach pain
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Tiny red skin spots (petechiae)
  • Excessive sweating and night sweats
  • Bone pain or tenderness

As with any type of cancer, an early leukemia diagnosis is the key to achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life. At Moffitt Cancer Center, your diagnosis is our top priority, and you can speak with a leukemia expert at our high-volume cancer center as soon as possible. This is important because when it comes to a leukemia diagnosis, every day counts, and we want to support you with individualized treatment and compassionate care every step of the way.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your leukemia symptoms with a specialist in the Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.