Signs and Symptoms of Blood Cancers

January 28, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: David C. Fisher, MD

Key Takeaways:

  • Blood cancers are cancers that originate in blood-forming tissues or cells within in the immune system.
  • There are many different types of blood cancer. Each form of blood cancer can also have unique symptoms due to where the cancer originates and the cells it affects.
  • The signs and symptoms of blood cancer can be difficult to spot, and many patients may have no symptoms at all.
  • Any persistent, concerning symptoms should be brought to the attention of a licensed medical professional.

Blood cancers (or hematologic cancers) are diseases that originate in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow or cells within in the immune system. There are three main types of blood cancers:

  • Leukemia: cancer that originates in the body’s blood-forming tissues, such as the bone marrow. The disease causes large numbers of myeloid blood cells to be produced and released into the blood stream.
  • Lymphoma: cancer that originates in the body’s immune system, also known as the lymphatic system. The disease causes white blood cells (or lymphocytes) to grow out of control.
  • Myeloma (also known as multiple myeloma):cancer that originates in the body’s plasma cells, white blood cells that are created in the bone marrow. The disease causes abnormal plasma cells that accumulate and overtake the bone marrow.

[Click here to learn more about the most commonly diagnosed blood cancers in adults.]

Signs and symptoms of blood cancer

The signs and symptoms of blood cancers can be tough to spot, as they are also typically associated with other illnesses. Most symptoms are not visibly noticeable, and many patients will have no symptoms at all.

Below are a list of symptoms commonly associated with blood cancers. However, the list does not include all possible symptoms, and anything that is concerning and persistent (lasting more than a week) should be discussed with a trained medical professional.

Common symptoms of blood cancers include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite (which generally contributes to unintended weight loss)
  • Frequent infections
  • Unexplained fevers
  • Shortness of breath
  • Night sweats

Each form of blood cancer can also have unique symptoms due to where the cancer originates and the cells it effects.

  • Leukemia symptoms include easily bruising or bleeding.
  • Lymphoma symptoms include swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin. Some patients may experience extreme itchiness.
  • Myeloma symptoms include bone pain or bone weakness. Patients may suffer bone fractures from only minor stress or injury. 

Remember: It is impossible to diagnose cancer based on symptoms alone. An evaluation by a licensed medical professional will determine if you should undergo blood work, a physical examination, x-rays, and ultimately, a biopsy.

About the Medical Reviewer

David C. Fisher, MD

Dr. Fisher received his MD from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1989 and residency training in internal medicine at the Duke University Medical Center, where he also served clinical fellowships in infectious diseases, hematology-oncology, and bone marrow transplantation. In 1995, he joined DFCI, where his clinical practice specializes in the treatment of patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Hodgkin's disease.