By Nyaka Mwanza
Leukemia’s symptoms include pain in the joints and bones, unintended weight loss, breathing problems, dizziness, and poor appetite, among others. That said, leukemia doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. When it does, leukemia’s symptoms can be easily confused for other common ailments, like the flu or pneumonia. The difference, however, is that leukemia symptoms linger or don’t go away at all.
Leukemia is a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, namely the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Leukemia disrupts the normal production of blood cells by bone marrow, which causes abnormal or immature blood cells to circulate through the body. These abnormal cells are usually white blood cells, or leukocytes. White blood cells are normally responsible for our immune response, or fighting off infection.
Nearly 435,000 people in the United States are living with leukemia. Approximately 60,500 new leukemia diagnoses will be made this year in the U.S. Early detection and prompt treatment are an important factor in one’s leukemia prognosis.
Your Lymph Nodes Are Swollen
Lymph nodes are small collections of immune cells in the body, responsible for filtering lymph fluid and potentially harmful substances. The lymph nodes swell as part of the body’s attempt to fight leukemia cells. Most commonly, the lymph nodes under the arms or in the groin, chest, or neck will appear swollen — though not painful to the touch. If you notice that your lymph nodes are enlarged, you should consult a physician.
You Get Sick More Often
White blood cells, an important component of our blood and our immune system, play the important role of fighting infection. With poorly functioning or low levels of white blood cells, your immune system is incapable of keeping you healthy or restoring your health. Recurring or longer lasting sickness is a sign your immune system isn’t performing optimally.
Frequent infections may cause symptoms such as fever and fatigue, which can be hard to differentiate from the early effects of blood cancer. This is especially true of discerning early symptoms of leukemia in children. If you find you are sick more often or for longer than usual, you should talk to your health care provider.
You Bleed or Bruise Easily
Platelets are a type of blood cell that help stop bleeding by allowing the blood to clot. Some types of leukemia destroy platelets. If platelet levels are low, a person may notice they bruise and bleed more easily if injured. They may also experience bleeding gums or have frequent nosebleeds.
Leukemia can also damage blood vessels. These broken blood vessels can show up as small reddish or purple dots on your skin. If you notice strange bruises or your minor cuts take longer than usual to stop bleeding, this may be an early sign of leukemia. You should talk to your doctor about it; it’s better to be safe and act early.
Nyaka’s bio: Nyaka Mwanza is a freelance writer for MyLeukemiaTeam. She completed a B.A. in Communications: Visual Media from American University and undertook post-baccalaureate studies in Health/Behavioral Communications and Marketing at Johns Hopkins University. Nyaka is a Zambian-born, E.U. citizen who was raised in sub-Saharan Africa and Jacksonville, N.C. However, she has called Washington, D.C., home for most of her life. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there.