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Childhood leukaemia symptoms

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Symptoms are noticeable changes in the way someone feels. Your child may have a range of symptoms before they are diagnosed.

Because leukaemia is rare and the symptoms are common in other illnesses, it can sometimes take a while to diagnose. If doctors think your child may have leukaemia, they’ll act quickly to arrange tests and treatment.

You child is unlikely to get all of the symptoms listed here – everyone is different. These are the most common ones.

Possible symptoms

Leukaemia can cause anaemia, which means a low number of red blood cells in the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body and if your child doesn’t have enough of them, they might have these symptoms:

  • constant tiredness
  • feeling out of breath (even when they’re not active)
  • feeling dizzy
  • paleness (in black and brown skin, this may be more easily seen in the lips, gums, tongue or nail beds, or inside the lower eyelid if you pull it down gently).

A low number of blood cells called platelets in the blood can mean children are more prone to bruising than usual, even if they don’t seem to have had any knock or bumps.

Your child may also have unusual bleeding or bleeding that takes longer to stop. They may get nosebleeds or bleeding gums.

They might develop a petechial rash. These are round red or purple spots that appear on the surface of the skin that don’t change colour when you press them. They are caused by bleeding under the skin. In black and brown skin, petechial rash may be more obvious on the soles of the feet, palms of the hand and inside the mouth.

A low number of white blood cells in the blood can lead to frequent infections and fever, even if there are no obvious signs like a sore throat or runny nose.

If your child has leukaemia, they may be more likely to develop infections, which can be more severe and last longer than usual.

Before they’re diagnosed, many children have had repeated infections or infections that don’t go away, and have often been given antibiotics.

Your healthcare team will tell you what to look out for, so if your child develops an infection you can get help immediately.

Your child might lose weight because their metabolism (the rate at which we burn energy from food) speeds up. We don’t know why this happens.

Leukaemia can sometimes cause other symptoms because of the spread of leukaemia cells in the body.

  • The lymph nodes in your child’s neck may swell, which will look and feel like swollen glands.
  • Your child might feel some pain in the stomach area if their liver or spleen (part of the immune system) are swollen.
  • They may complain of bone pain. This is caused by leukaemia cells overcrowding the bone marrow. Younger children might limp or avoid walking because of this.
  • They may feel generally unwell.
  • They may have night sweats.
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