Normal white blood cells help the body fight infections. Because leukemia cells are abnormal, they do not function as normal cells do. People with leukemia often find out about their disease because they may have fevers and infections.
Red blood cells carry oxygen through the body. People with leukemia may lack an adequate supply of healthy red blood cells. This condition is called anemia. People with anemia may appear pale, feel weak and tired, and their heart may beat rapidly. People with leukemia often do not produce enough platelets. People who don't have enough platelets may bruise and bleed easily.
Common symptoms of leukemia can include:
Fever with chills and sweating
Weakness and fatigue
Loss of appetite
Swollen lymph nodes, liver, or spleen
Tiny red spots and bruises under the skin
Sore or bleeding gums
Pain in the bones or joints
Shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pains
In acute leukemia, abnormal cells may also be found in the brain or spinal cord. These areas form part of the central nervous system. Symptoms for acute leukemia in the central nervous system include headaches, vomiting, confusion, loss of muscle control, weakness in the legs or arms, and seizures.
Leukemia cells may also be found in the testicles; this causes swelling. In rare cases, leukemia occurs in the eye. The brain, testicles, and eye are areas that common intravenous chemotherapy cannot reach. If affected, they may need special attention. Leukemia may also affect the skin, digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, and other parts of the body.
In chronic leukemia, the leukemia cells slowly gather in different body parts. This type of leukemia can affect the skin, central nervous system, digestive tract, kidneys, and testicles.