Blood cancer symptoms

Updated 11 Aug 2017

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

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue),
  • repeated infections,
  • unexplained weight loss,
  • easy bruising and / or bleeding,
  • drenching night sweats,
  • itchy skin,
  • lumps or swellings in your neck, head, groin or stomach, and
  • bone and / or joint pain.

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. Go to our information about specific blood cancers to find out more about the symptoms of different types of blood cancer.

Worried about blood cancer?

Blood cancer symptoms can be quite vague and many of them are shared with illnesses like colds and flu – for example tiredness, fever or an infection. Lumps are a common symptom of lymphoma, but other, less serious illnesses also cause lumps.

Because of this, see your doctor if you have symptoms or groups of symptoms that you think are unusual for you, or last for longer than normal.

What causes the symptoms of blood cancer?

Your blood cells are made in your bone marrow, which makes lots of different types of blood cells. In most blood cancers, one particular type of blood cell becomes cancerous. This can lead to problems:

  • These blood cells might grow and divide out of control and crowd out other types of healthy blood cell.
  • The cells that are produced might be abnormal or not grow properly (immature), meaning they can’t do their job properly.

Without the right balance of healthy blood cells, your body can struggle to fight off infections, carry hormones around your body and repair damage. That’s why blood cancer makes you unwell.

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 (may lead to extreme tiredness / fatigue)

Caused by low levels of oxygen-carrying red blood cells (haemoglobin)

Anaemia can cause extreme and persistent tiredness (fatigue), breathlessness even when you’re resting, chest pain, dizziness, and paleness.

Bruising and 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 / high temperature (fever)

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

You may get repeated infections, or have a high temperature 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.

Pain

Caused by lytic lesions in your bones

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

Night sweats (drenching)

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

Skin itching

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

Weight loss (unexplained)

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

Significant weight loss can be a sign of blood cancer. If you lose more than 5% of your weight without trying in a month or 10% over 6 months, see your doctor.

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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