Blood cancer symptoms and signs
Blood cancer symptoms vary depending on the type of blood cancer, whether it's leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, MDS, MPN or any other blood cancer.
Blood cancer symptoms include:
- Weight loss that is unexplained
- Bruising or bleeding that is unexplained
- Lumps or swellings
- Shortness of breath (breathlessness)
- Drenching night sweats
- Infections that are persistent, recurrent or severe
- Fever (38°C or above) that is unexplained
- Rash or itchy skin that is unexplained
- Pain in your bone, joints or abdominal
- Tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep (fatigue)
- Unusually pale complexion (pallor)
We have more specific information about symptoms for different types of blood cancer. Read below for more detailed information about each symptom.
Not everyone will have the same symptoms, and people may have symptoms that are not listed here.
Coronavirus and blood cancer symptoms
It can be hard to tell the difference between the symptoms of coronavirus and the symptoms of blood cancer. So it's important to know what to do.
If you have any symptoms that could be coronavirus, you must self-isolate straight away and get a coronavirus test as soon as you can.
If your coronavirus test is negative, tell your GP about your symptoms as they could be caused by something else.
If your coronavirus test is positive, but the symptoms persist, make sure you tell your GP. The coronavirus symptoms may be masking something else, including blood cancer.
Free blood cancer symptoms guide
Our free blood cancer symptoms guide is a pocket-sized reminder of these symptoms and provides space for you to record any that you might experience. If you need to get checked out, it also includes things to think about before your appointment and questions to ask your doctor.
Worried about blood cancer?
Most people who have symptoms described on this page won’t have blood cancer. But it's worrying to have symptoms you can't explain, and important to find out what’s causing them, if only to set your mind at rest.
If you have just one symptom that you can't explain, that goes on for a long time, or is unusual for you, book an appointment with your GP. If you suddenly feel very unwell at any time, get medical help straight away by calling 999 or going to A&E.
If you want to talk to someone, our trained blood cancer support team is here for anyone worried about blood cancer. They will listen to your concerns, explain what to expect from the NHS and talk you through your next steps.
Questions to ask your doctor
If you go to get checked out, here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor:
- I’m worried about blood cancer – is that something you can rule out?
- Do I need a blood test?
- Do I need a lymph node biopsy?
- Do I need any scans?
- Do you need to take a urine sample?
- As my symptoms might be blood cancer, can I be referred for tests on the two-week suspected cancer pathway?
About the suspected cancer pathway
National guidelines say that anyone with suspected cancer should be referred to a specialist and seen within two weeks.
This may sound alarming, but keep in mind that most people referred on the suspected cancer pathway don't have cancer. The maximum two-week wait is recommended to help people get checked out quickly. For the few people who do have cancer, getting diagnosed earlier can mean treatment is easier and more successful.
Need to talk?
We know that having symptoms and worrying you might have blood cancer can be a frightening experience.
Our Support Services Team is here for anyone worried about blood cancer.
Our team has lots of experience supporting people in a similar situation.
I have had some lovely chats with the Blood Cancer UK Support Services Team. They are just marvellous!
- Maria, diagnosed with T-cell large granular lymphocytic leukaemia (T-LGLL)
Common blood cancer symptoms explained
Blood cancer often means you don’t have the right balance of blood cells in your body. You might have too many of a particular type of blood cell, not enough of a particular type of blood cell, or blood cells that aren’t working properly. This list explains what causes the most common symptoms of blood cancer.
We have more information on how blood cancer starts.
Tiredness, breathlessness, pale complexion
Caused by anaemia (a low level of red blood cells)
Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you can become anaemic. Anaemia can cause tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest or sleep, breathlessness even when you’re resting, and an unusually pale complexion (pallor). Other symptoms of anaemia include feeling faint and headaches.
Unexplained rash, bruising or bleeding
Caused by a low level of platelets, which help the blood to clot
You may notice bruises on your skin, small red spots in the skin (petechiae) or a purple rash (purpura). 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.
Infections or unexplained fever
Caused by a low level of white blood cells, which fight infection
You may get persistent, recurrent or severe infections, or have a high temperature (38°C or above) even if there aren’t any other obvious signs of infection. Infections can cause flu-like symptoms like chills or shivering, coughing or a sore throat.
Lumps and swellings
Caused by abnormal white blood cells building up in your lymph glands
You’re most likely to notice these in your neck, armpit or groin. They’re usually painless, although some people find they ache. If there are lumps or swellings further inside your body, and they press on organs such as your lungs, this can cause pain, discomfort or breathlessness.
Caused by damage to your bones
Myeloma can cause pain in any major bones such as your back, ribs or hips.
Drenching night sweats
Some people with lymphoma have drenching night sweats but we don’t know yet what causes this.
Some people with blood cancer experience itching but we don’t know yet what causes this.
Unexplained weight loss
Cancer cells and the body’s reaction to them can alter your body’s metabolism and reduce muscle and fat.
Abdominal (stomach area) problems
Caused by abnormal blood cells building up in your spleen
You may feel full after only eating small amounts, have discomfort under your ribs on the left side, have bloating or swelling, or occasionally pain.
Symptoms of acute blood cancer
Caused by a very high level of white blood cells
Some types of blood cancer such as acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) develop very quickly and make you suddenly very unwell. This is known as leukostasis or blast crisis. Symptoms may include breathing problems and neurological symptoms like visual changes, confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle control or seizures. Anyone with these symptoms needs medical attention immediately.
I've just been told I have blood cancer
For people who've recently been diagnosed with blood cancer, we have information you may find useful and supportive at a difficult time.