What Are the Symptoms of Leukemia?

While leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, is one of the more common cancers in children, it occurs most frequently in older adults. More than 60,000 new cases of adult leukemia are estimated in the United States for 2016. These cancers are classified as either acute, which means the cancer is fast growing, or chronic, in which cells grow slower over time.


Many of the symptoms of leukemia, such as fever and unexplained weight loss, occur in most types of the disease, from acute myeloid leukemia to chronic lymphocytic leukemia and others. However, some symptoms indicate a specific form. Pain or fullness below the ribs on the left side, for example, may be a symptom related to chronic myelogenous leukemia, but isn’t connected to other forms of the disease. So what are the other symptoms?

While not all leukemia patients will experience symptoms, the most common signs of leukemia include:

  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight or appetite loss
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Pain or fullness below the ribs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising
  • Night sweats

These symptoms may be indicators of other, less serious conditions, but if you notice any of these signs, contact your doctor, who can conduct a complete blood count test or a bone marrow aspiration biopsy, the two most common testing procedures for leukemia.

Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options for leukemia from Dana-Farber’s/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center Adult Leukemia Program.

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