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Blood cancer symptoms and signs

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]

Blood cancer symptoms vary between blood cancers, like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

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
  • 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

During the coronavirus outbreak, it’s really important that you still contact your GP if you have any of the symptoms on this web page. Although some of them are symptoms of coronavirus, they are also symptoms of blood cancer.

If you self-isolate but your symptoms don't go away, call 111. If symptoms persist, keep contacting your GP. Diagnosing cancer earlier means treatment is more likely to be successful.

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 with these symptoms won’t have blood cancer. But if you experience any, it’s really important that you find out what’s causing them, quickly.

If you have any symptom that’s persistent, unexplained or unusual for you, book an appointment with your GP. If you suddenly feel very unwell, seek urgent medical help.

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?
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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.

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.

Bone pain

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.

Itchy skin

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.

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]