Symptoms and Signs of Leukemia

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/4/2022

Doctor's Notes on Leukemia

Leukemia is a general term for cancers (abnormal cells that multiply) of blood-forming immature cell types in the bone marrow that can spread into the blood and organs. Like many other diseases, the signs and symptoms of leukemias are non-specific and include

When leukemia cells aggregate in one or more organs, they may produce signs and symptoms like

  •  headache,
  • confusion,
  • seizures,
  • balance problems,
  • muscle control loss,
  • blurry vision,
  • swelling or nodules in the neck, armpits, and/or groin,
  • shortness of breath,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • bone and joint pains, and
  • swelling and pain in the abdomen or testicles.

The exact cause of leukemia is not known. Associated risk factors for development include toxic exposures (like benzene), radiation exposure, smoking, previous chemotherapy, human T-cell leukemia virus, myelodysplastic syndromes (blood cell abnormalities), genetics (abnormal genes and Down syndrome), and family history.

What Are the Treatments for Leukemia?

The common treatment options for leukemia include the following:

  • Chemotherapy: oral and IV drugs used to kill leukemia cells
  • Targeted therapy: drugs that attack leukemia cells in areas unique to the type of these cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy: X-rays or other high-energy beams that can stop leukemia cells from growing and/or may kill the cells
  • Bone marrow (stem cell) transplant: replacing leukemic bone marrow cells with transplanted healthy bone marrow cells
  • Immunotherapy: drugs that enhance your immune system to recognize and fight leukemic cancer cells
  • Engineered immune cells: your T cells extracted and transformed to recognize a receptor (antigen) unique to certain leukemia types and infused back into your body to target leukemia cells
  • Clinical trials: experimental treatments to control and/or kill leukemic cells usually arranged by your cancer doctors

Treatments for leukemia is individualized. Your doctors determine your options for treatments based on many factors including age, leukemia type, where it has spread in your body along with any other health issues.

Must Read Articles:


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.