Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells and bone marrow, during which too many blood cells multiply. Symptoms of the illness vary widely, as there are a few different types of leukemia, and additionally, symptoms of leukemia in children differ from symptoms in adults. When symptoms of leukemia first appear, the patient should not immediately assume he or she has cancer, as the early symptoms are vague and can be assumed to be signs of a number of illnesses or problems.
Two major divisions of leukemia are acute and chronic. With acute leukemia, the patient’s immature blood cells increase quickly, crowding the bone marrow and preventing it from producing healthy blood cells. The malignant cells can easily be released into the bloodstream and other organs of the body. In chronic leukemia, more mature white blood cells build up at an alarmingly high rate. Acute leukemia is more common in children, while chronic leukemia is generally experienced by older patients.
Early symptoms of leukemia are likely to be experienced more fully by acute leukemia patients. Symptoms of acute leukemia include fever, infections, lethargy and lumps on the neck, armpit or stomach. Symptoms of chronic leukemia take longer to develop and include fatigue, weight loss, sweating, fever and pain below the ribs. Symptoms experienced by both acute and chronic patients include pain, headache, paleness, bleeding or bruising easily, loss of appetite, pain in the bones or joints, a feeling of general discomfort, infection, fever, reduced ability to exercise, red spots under the skin and enlarged liver, spleen and lymph nodes.
If a person is experiencing the symptoms of leukemia, he or she should see a doctor immediately for an official diagnosis. Experiencing some of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate cancer, however, because they can apply to a number of illnesses; there are no specific indicators of the cancer that a patient can identify without a doctor’s analysis. When a patient claims to experience symptoms of leukemia, a doctor will check for abdominal or lymph node swelling, abnormal bleeding or bruising and abnormal blood test results. Swelling occurs when the large number of white blood cells collects in one region of the body, while bruising and bleeding is caused by too few platelets, blood cells that clump together to thwart bleeding in the body. Blood tests measure a patient’s red and white blood cells and platelets, and too many white blood cells can be a sign of leukemia.