Warning Signs of Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells. While there are many cells in the blood, leukemia particularly targets white blood cells (leukocytes).

White blood cells are a central part of the body’s immune system circulating in the lymph and bloodstream. Most white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, although some are formed in the spleen, thymus and lymph nodes.

They are normally present in small quantities compared to other blood cells. Large-scale proliferation of white blood cells typically only happens when there is an infection or other (perceived) threat in the body. After fighting off the infection, most of them die and one’s white blood cell count goes back to normal.

Leukemia causes an abnormal proliferation of these cells. The white blood cells stop functioning normally and divide too quickly. Eventually, these cancerous cells overpopulate the bloodstream.

Leukemia is one of the most common types of non-skin cancer [1]. The cause of leukemia isn’t known but certain factors such as smoking, radiotherapy, family history and certain genetic and blood disorders increase one’s chances of developing it.

Most people with leukemia do not start to show specific symptoms until the disease has progressed, so the disease can be hard to catch. Leukemia can only be diagnosed by a doctor through a range of tests. If you have any of these warning signs, you should consider seeing a doctor for a diagnosis.

Fatigue, Fever or Chills

Leukemia can cause sufferers to experience extreme fatigue that doesn’t get better with rest. This is often due to a low supply of oxygen to the muscles and other organs of the body. Fatigue is the most common leukemia symptom, affecting up to 56 percent [2] of leukemia patients.

The oxygen transported in the blood is carried by hemoglobin, a compound present in red blood cells. Leukemia can cause a reduction of these red blood cells, triggering a deficiency of oxygen in the blood. The muscles are deprived of energy to work well and the heart must work even harder to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body. This causes a person to feel short of breath and extremely tired often.

People with leukemia may experience periods when their body temperature rises very much above what is considered normal. This results in fever, which may sometimes be accompanied by chills.