Leukemia symptoms, risk factors, and FAQs

Signs and symptoms

In general, all types of leukemia share some common signs and symptoms:

  • Frequent infections
  • Fever
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Paleness
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats

Depending on the type of leukemia, other symptoms may occur. For example, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) can present with pain or a sense of fullness in the stomach because this type enlarges the spleen and/or liver. Your doctor can share a complete list of symptoms for your type of leukemia.


lady looking into the distance

End stage leukemia

End stage leukemia has signs and symptoms that show the person is in the final days of life:

  • Slow breathing with long pauses; noisy breathing with congestion.
  • Cool skin that may turn a bluish, dusky color, especially in the hands and feet.
  • Dryness of mouth and lips
  • Decreased amount of urine
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Restlessness or repetitive, involuntary movements
  • Confusion about time, place, and identity of people, including family members and close friends.
  • Hallucinations and dream-like experiences
  • Drifting in and out of consciousness, and becoming less responsive to touch or voice
Provider and patient having a discussion

Risk factors

Research has identified some common factors that may increase your risk of developing some type of leukemia:

  • Previous cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other cancers increase the risk of developing certain types of leukemia.
  • Genetic disorders. Certain genetic disorders like Down syndrome.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals. Benzene, found in gasoline and the chemical industry, is linked to an increased risk of some kinds of leukemia.
  • Smoking. Increases the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.
  • Family history of leukemia.

Questions and answers (FAQs)

Yes, the acute types of leukemia like ALL and AML can occur suddenly. Other forms of leukemia like hairy cell leukemia occur slowly.

Research shows that childhood leukemias may occur due to a combination of certain gene changes early in life, and exposure to certain viruses later than normal (after the first year).

Anywhere on the body. When leukemia progresses to a certain point, it can cause capillaries to burst underneath the skin and leak. This leakage can cause tiny red, purple, or brown spots called petechiae to appear on the skin, which grouped together can look similar to a rash but is not actually one.

Yes, some types of leukemia can be cured. Leukemia is a broad term for several types of blood cancer, so the treatment and prognosis depends on the specific type.