Symptoms of Leukemia in Pictures: Rashes and Bruises
Living with Leukemia
More than 280,000 people are living with leukemia in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow—the place where blood cells are made. The body makes large numbers of abnormal white blood cells, which normally protect the body against infection. All of those damaged white blood cells crowd out healthy blood cells.
There are many different signs that can determine if you have leukemia. Many of these are caused by a lack of healthy blood cells. You may experience some of the following symptoms of leukemia:
- feeling unusually tired or weak
- fever and/or chills
- unexplained weight loss
- nighttime sweating
- frequent nosebleeds
- occasional rashes and bruises on the skin
Tiny Red Spots
One symptom that people with leukemia might notice is tiny red spots on their skin. These pinpoints of blood are called petechiae.
The red spots are caused by tiny broken blood vessels called capillaries under the skin. Normally, platelets—disc-shaped cells in the blood—help the blood clot. But in people with leukemia, the body doesn’t have enough platelets to seal off the broken blood vessels.
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a form of leukemia that can affect children. AML can affect the gums, causing them to swell up or bleed. It also can create a collection of dark-colored spots on the skin. Although these spots may resemble a traditional rash, they are something different. Cells in the skin can also form lumps, which are called chloroma or granulocytic sarcoma.
If you get a more typical red rash on your skin, it may not be caused by leukemia. You could be having a reaction to medicines you’re taking to treat the condition. Or, you might have an infection. A lack of white blood cells makes it harder for your body to fight off infections. Some infections can produce symptoms like skin rash, along with fever, mouth sores, or a headache.
A bruise develops when blood vessels under the skin are damaged. People with leukemia are more likely to bruise, because their body doesn’t make enough platelets to plug bleeding blood vessels.
Leukemia bruises look like any other kind of bruise, but there are usually more of them than normal and they may show up in unusual areas of the body—like the back.
The same lack of platelets that makes people bruise also leads to bleeding. People with leukemia may bleed more than they would expect even from a very small injury—like a tiny cut. Or, they may notice bleeding from areas that haven’t been hurt—like their gums or nose. Injuries often bleed more than normal, and the bleeding may be unusually hard to stop.
Although leukemia can leave dark-colored rashes or bruises on the body, it can also take color away from the skin. People with leukemia often look pale because of anemia—when the body lacks enough red blood cells. Without enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body, anemia can cause symptoms like fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.
Rashes or Bruising: What to Do
Don’t panic if you notice rashes or bruising on yourself or your child. Although these are symptoms of leukemia, they can also be signs of many other conditions. First, look for an obvious cause—like an allergic reaction or injury. If the rash or bruises don’t go away, call your doctor.
- American Cancer Society. (2013) How is Childhood Leukemia Found? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemiainchildren/overviewguide/childhood-leukemia-overview-found
- American Cancer Society. (n.d.) Leukemia—Acute Myeloid (Myelogenous) http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003110-pdf.pdf
- American Cancer Society. (2013) Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia http://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemiainchildren/detailedguide/childhood-leukemia-signs-and-symptoms
- Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.) Leukemia http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/leukemia/hic_leukemia.aspx
- National Cancer Institute. (n.d.) SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Leukemia. Retrieved from http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/leuks.html
- National Institutes of Health. (n.d.) Leukemia. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/leukemia/oc169105.pdf