Canadian Cancer Society logo


You are here: 

Signs and symptoms of leukemia

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of leukemia can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

Signs and symptoms of acute leukemia (fast growing) may be similar to the flu and come on suddenly within days or weeks.

In the early stages of chronic leukemia (slow growing), many people have few or no symptoms. Signs and symptoms usually develop gradually and people will complain that they just do not feel well. The disease is often discovered during a routine blood test.

Signs and symptoms of leukemia are:

  • fatigue
  • malaisemalaiseA general feeling of discomfort or illness.
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • anemiaanemiaA reduction in the number of healthy red blood cells.
    • shortness of breath
    • paleness
    • palpitations (rapid heartbeat)
    • weakness
    • dizziness
  • bleeding
    • widespread bruising
    • frequent or severe nose bleeds
    • bleeding gums
    • mid-cycle or heavy menstrual flow
    • red spots on the skin (petechiaepetechiaeTiny, flat, red spots caused by bleeding just under the surface of the skin.)
  • frequent infections
    • lungs (pneumonia)
    • urinary tract
    • gums
    • around the anus
    • cold sores
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • night sweats
  • bone or joint pain
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, groin or above the collarbone
  • abdominal discomfort or feeling of fullness
  • vision problems
  • sores in the eyes
  • swelling of the testicles

Rare signs and symptoms

Rare signs and symptoms of leukemia are:

  • chloroma (granulocytic sarcoma) – a tumour-like collection of leukemia cells under the skin or in other parts of the body occur
  • skin changes
    • Leukemia cutis occurs when leukemia cells enter the skin. The sores or patches can be any size and are usually pink or tan in colour.
    • Leukocytoclastic vasculitis resembles an allergic reaction on the skin. Sores usually appear on the extremities (hands and feet).
    • Sweet's syndrome (acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis) includes fever and painful sores that may appear anywhere on the body.


Photo of Rayjean Hung Dr Hung helped identify genetic mutations linked to lung cancer risk.

Read more

Providing rides to cancer treatment

Illustration of car

For more than 50 years, the Canadian Cancer Society’s transportation program has enabled patients to focus their energy on fighting cancer and not on worrying about how they will get to treatment.

Learn more