Cancer that starts in the blood or blood-forming tissues is called leukemia. There are many types of leukemia, and symptoms and treatment can vary depending on the type.
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also called chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a cancer of the white blood cells. Immature white blood cells multiply very quickly and push out other kinds of necessary blood cells.
Symptoms of CML occur because the cancer cells are replacing the normal, healthy blood cells like red blood cells, platelets, and healthy white cells.
The symptoms of CML can be similar to other conditions, so it’s important to get checked out if they continue over time.
Some symptoms include:
- weight loss
Early on in the disease, you may not have any symptoms, or they may be very mild. Your symptoms may be so general that you don’t see them as something to take note of at first, like fever or mild fatigue.
The “chronic” in CML means that it’s typically a slow-growing cancer, so symptoms may increase slowly. However, there are times when it can progress to a more aggressive, acute form of leukemia.
As the cancer cells increase in the blood and the disease progresses, symptoms may become more noticeable and severe. This is called the accelerated or blastic phase.
For more information on how CML affects the body, visit this article.
Fatigue is different from simply being tired. It’s a severe lack of energy that no amount of sleep is able to fix.
Fatigue with CML doesn’t improve or go away over time, and it can affect your ability to participate in everyday activities. For example, you may be exhausted by getting dressed in the morning or running an errand you used to do.
This fatigue typically happens because of anemia. Anemia is a shortage of red blood cells. Anemia occurs in CML because the cancerous white blood cells have crowded out the healthy red blood cells. Without enough red blood cells, oxygen isn’t carried efficiently through the body, causing fatigue or feelings of weakness.
Shortness of breath, especially during everyday activities, is another symptom caused by anemia. The severity of the anemia depends on your hemoglobin level.
If your organs aren’t getting enough oxygen, your lungs work harder to breathe. One sign that your shortness of breath may be serious is if it happens during common tasks like talking or doing light household chores.
Many times in CML, the cancerous cells crowd out the platelets in your blood. Without enough platelets, you bruise and bleed more easily. For example, you may have bleeding gums when brushing your teeth, or you may have recurring nosebleeds.
Sometimes people with CML have too many platelets. However, because they’re not healthy platelets, they don’t work the way they’re supposed to and can still lead to easy bruising and bleeding.
An enlarged spleen, or splenomegaly, can be another symptom of CML. This is because cancer cells gather in the spleen.
You might have pain in the upper left side of your abdomen or feel full after only eating a little. If you have a very slim build, you may even be able to see a bulge from a swollen spleen.
If your spleen gets too big, it can affect blood flow to the organ, eventually causing anemia. Sometimes, the enlarged spleen can also be linked with a hypermetabolic state, which is when your body uses more energy while resting than usual. This deprives the body of adequate and necessary nutrients, causing other symptoms like weight loss, fatigue, and muscle atrophy.
An enlarged spleen can cause you to feel full when you’ve barely eaten, and eventually, you might not even be very hungry. Over time, this can cause weight loss that you’re not even aware of.
You may also lose weight because your body is in a hypermetabolic state, so it’s burning up a lot of energy (aka calories). As cancer cells divide rapidly, they are also using up energy.
Fevers and night sweats are known as “B symptoms.” They can sometimes happen due to high inflammatory markers in the blood as part of the cancerous process.
Fever may caused by infection if you have CML. It’s more common in the accelerated, blastic phase. Your body can’t fight infection as well as it typically would because normal, healthy white blood cells have been replaced with cancerous blood cells.
Another cause of fever with CML is the hypermetabolic state caused by an enlarged spleen. When your body’s metabolism is increased, it can make your body temperature increase as well.
Although it’s not always clear what causes night sweats in cancer, it may be related to the body’s hypermetabolic state. This can cause an elevated temperature or fever, making the body sweat more than usual. Night sweats typically occur with other symptoms and are not the sole indicator that you have cancer.
Bone pain can sometimes occur with CML. This happens when the cancer cells spread from the bone marrow cavity to the bone surface or the joint.
Bone pain may be sharp or a dull ache, and there may be swelling where the pain is located. As more cancer spreads to the bone, the pain may become more constant.
CML has a variety of symptoms that may seem very general in the early stages. As the cancer cells multiply and make up more of the bone marrow, symptoms may start becoming more severe, and you may notice more of them.
Since fatigue, weight loss, and anemia can be symptoms of many other conditions, talk with a healthcare professional if you start noticing any symptoms that are out of the ordinary for you. They will be able to consider your health history, do a physical exam, and order any tests that may help with diagnosis.