11 common signs and symptoms of blood cancer to look out for

Blood cancer: Symptoms explained by healthcare professionals

The Leukaemia Foundation lists 11 symptoms associated with blood cancer, the first of which is unexplained weight loss.

Unexplained weight loss

Unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of blood cancer as cancer cells and the body’s reaction to them can alter the body’s metabolism and reduce muscle and fat, it explains.

Look out for weight loss that seems unusual based on your current diet and exercise.

Unexplained bruising or bleeding

This can occur with a low level of platelets, which helps blood to clot.

The charity explains: “You may have bleeding from your nose or gums, prolonged bleeding from a cut, heavy periods, or blood in your urine or poo. In very rare cases, there may be a bleed into the brain, which can cause neurological symptoms.”

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Petechiae, tiny, upraised red blood spots under the skin, may also occur, often starting on legs. On darker skin, they can show up darker than the skin around them.

Lumps or swellings

These can occur as a result of abnormal white blood cells building in your lymph glands.

The charity advises you are most likely to notice these in your neck, armpit or groin, they are usually pains, although some people find they ache, and if there are lumps or swellings further inside your body, and they person organs such as your lungs, this may cause pain, discomfort or breathlessness.

Shortness of breath

This can be caused by anaemia, which is a low levels of red blood cells. The charity says you may expect breathlessness even when you’re resting, feeling faint or lightheaded, and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Drenching night sweats

People with lymphoma or leukaemia may experience this, said the charity, although the cause is unknown.

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Repeat or severe infections

This can be caused by a low level of white blood cells, which are important for fighting infection.

The charity says you may expect infections that are persistent, recurrent or severe, flu-like symptoms, and mouth ulcers that don’t go away.

Regular and frequent fevers

Low levels of white blood cells can be the cause. The charity says you may expect a “fever of 38°C or above even if there aren’t any other obvious signs of infection”.

Unexplained rash or itchy skin

Rashes can be caused by a low level of platelets, says the charity. It adds: “Some people with blood cancer experience itching, but we don’t fully understand what causes this yet.”

You may notice small red spots in the skin (petechiae) or a purple rash, known as purpura. Both of these don’t face when you press on them.

Itching, when caused by lymphoma, can be severe and may cause a burning sensation, and on darker skin petechiae and purpura can appear darker than the surrounding skin.

Pain in your bone, joints or abdomen

This can be caused by damage to the bones and abnormal blood cells building up in the spleen.

The charity says myeloma can cause pain in any major bones such as your back, ribs or hips, and you may feel full after only eating small amounts, have discomfort under your ribs on the left side, and have bloating or swelling, or occasionally pain.


Fatigue can occur as a result of anaemia. This may also be accompanied by feeling faint and headaches, says the charity.

Unusually pale complexion

This can also occur as a result of anaemia. The charity advises people with darker skin may look greyish with pale palms on their hands. 

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