Updated 03 Sep 2019

There are lots of possible signs and symptoms of blood cancers like leukaemialymphoma and myeloma. The most common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lumps or swellings
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Persistent, recurrent or severe infections
  • Unexplained fever (38°C or above)
  • Unexplained rash or itchy skin
  • Bone, joint or abdominal pain
  • Tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep
  • Breathlessness
  • Unusually pale complexion (pallor)

It’s important to remember that not everyone will have the same (or even any) symptoms. Each person is different.

Symptoms are physical (body) or mental (mind) changes that come about because of a health condition.

This section explains some of the symptoms that blood cancer can cause. Find out more about the symptoms of specific blood cancers 

Worried about blood cancer?

Most people with these symptoms won’t have blood cancer. But if you experience any, it’s really important that you find out what’s causing them, quickly.

If you have any symptom that’s persistent, unexplained or unusual for you, book an appointment with your GP.

If you suddenly feel very unwell, seek urgent medical help.

Our free blood cancer symptoms guide guide is a pocket-sized reminder of these symptoms and provides space for you to record any that you might experience. If you need to get checked out, it also includes things to think about before your appointment and questions to ask your doctor. 

You can also call our free and confidential support line if you have any questions, or just need someone to talk to. Call 0808 2080 888 or email support@bloodwise.org.uk

It’s ok to ask your doctor…

If you go to get checked out, here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor:

  • I’m worried about blood cancer – is that something you can rule out?
  • Do I need a blood test?
  • Do I need a lymph node biopsy?
  • Do I need any scans?
  • Do you need to take a urine sample?

Common blood cancer symptoms explained

Blood cancer can mean that you don’t have the right balance of different types of blood cell. You might have too many of one type of cell and / or not enough of another. This list explains what causes the most common symptoms of blood cancers.

Anaemia

Caused by low levels of oxygen-carrying red blood cells

Anaemia can cause tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest or sleep, breathlessness even when you’re resting, chest pain, dizziness, and an unusually pale complexion (pallor).

Unexplained rash, bruising or bleeding

Caused by a low level of blood-clotting cells (platelets)

This can vary from extreme bruising to tiny pin-sized red spots in your skin (petechiae) or a purple skin rash (purpura). It can also cause bleeding from your nose, gums, wounds, heavy periods, or blood in your poo. In very rare cases there may be a bleed into the brain which causes stroke-like symptoms.

Infections / unexplained fever

Caused by a low level of infection-fighting white blood cells (neutrophils)

You may get persistent, recurrent or severe infections, or have a high temperature (38°C or above) even if there aren’t any other obvious signs of infection. Infections can cause flu-like symptoms like coughing or a sore throat.

Lumps and swellings

Caused by abnormal white blood cells building up in your lymph glands.

You’re most likely to notice these in your neck, armpit or groin. They’re usually painless, although some people find they ache. If there are lumps or swellings further inside your body, and they press on organs such as your lungs, this can cause pain, discomfort and / or breathlessness.

Bone pain

Caused by lytic lesions in your bones

Myeloma can cause pain in any major bones such as back, ribs or hips.

Drenching night sweats

Some people with lymphoma have drenching night sweats but we don’t know yet what causes this.

Itchy skin

Some people with blood cancer experience itching but we don’t know yet what causes this.

Unexplained weight loss

Caused by dividing cells that use up a lot of energy (increasing your metabolism)

Significant weight loss can be a sign of blood cancer.

Abdominal (stomach area) problems

Caused by abnormal blood cells building up in your spleen

You may feel full after only eating small amounts, have discomfort under your ribs on the left side, have bloating or swelling, or occasionally pain.

Symptoms of acute blood cancer

Caused by a very high level of white blood cells

Some types of blood cancer such as acute myeloid leukaemia develop very quickly and make you very unwell very quickly. This is known as leukostasis or blast crisis. Symptoms may include vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, and seizures. Anyone with these symptoms needs medical attention immediately.

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