Published Aug 11, 2021

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Various types of leukemia exist, and they are often categorized by the speed at which they progress and the type of blood cells they affect.

Leukemia is characterized by the overproduction of abnormal white blood cells, which can interfere with the body’s ability to fight infection, carry oxygen, and perform other important functions. Recognizing early signs of leukemia can be crucial for early detection and treatment, which may improve the prognosis for those affected.

Many people ask us, “what are the early signs of leukemia?” We’ve put together a guide on symptoms for both children and adults, so you can stay up-to-date with your body and know when to contact your healthcare provider when something doesn’t seem quite right.

Types of Leukemia

Before we answer what are early signs of leukemia are, we need to discuss the types of leukemia. Doctors classify leukemia based on the abnormal cells and the progression of the illness.

  1. Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) – Acute myeloid leukemia is also known as acute myelogenous leukemia and is most common in adults who are 65 and older.
  2. Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) – Chronic myeloid leukemia is also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia and is the most chronic leukemia in adults. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia but can change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that’s difficult to treat.
  3. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) – Acute lymphocytic leukemia is also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and is the most common childhood cancer.
  4. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) – Chronic lymphocytic leukemia most commonly occurs in adults. CLL is a slow growing leukemia and many people do not experience any symptoms for at least a few years.

Acute vs Chronic Leukemia

As noted above, leukemia is classified into two main categories: acute and chronic. Acute leukemia is characterized by the rapid accumulation of immature blood cells, leading to the quick onset of symptoms. It requires immediate treatment to control the disease. Chronic leukemia progresses more slowly and involves more mature blood cells. These cells can function normally for a period, making the disease less apparent in its early stages.

This distinction is crucial because it influences the treatment approach and the patient’s prognosis. Acute leukemia often demands aggressive treatment, which commonly includes chemotherapy, radiation, or stem cell transplantation. In contrast, chronic leukemia may be monitored over time and treated with targeted therapies designed to control the disease’s progression. Understanding these differences helps patients and healthcare providers make informed decisions about the most appropriate treatment strategies.

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The Importance of Identifying Early Symptoms

Early detection of leukemia can significantly improve treatment outcomes, as it allows for the initiation of therapy before the disease progresses too far. Understanding and recognizing these early signs can lead to a timely diagnosis, which is essential for effective management and potentially curative treatment options.

Additionally, identifying the early stages of leukemia symptoms can help in avoiding the complications that arise from the disease’s progression, such as the spread of leukemia cells to other parts of the body. It also opens up a wider range of treatment options that may be less invasive and more targeted towards the leukemia’s specific type, potentially reducing the treatment’s side effects and improving the quality of life for patients.

What Are the Early Signs of Childhood Leukemia?

Childhood leukemia is often found as a result of symptoms. These signs become a cause for concern and eventually lead to a doctor’s visit. That’s why it’s a good idea to stay informed and know what to look for.

If you’re wondering what are the early signs of childhood leukemia, first know that many of these symptoms can have other causes as well. Because leukemia begins in the bone marrow, symptoms of leukemia are typically caused by problems in the bone marrow. When leukemia builds up in the bone marrow, it can crowd out normal cells, and result in a lack of normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets. The spread of leukemia cells may prevent bone marrow from creating healthy blood cells. Symptoms might also be caused by leukemia cells invading other areas of the body.

1. Infections and Fever

Childhood cancer patients often have high white blood cell counts (which are what help the body to ward off germs). However, most of these are leukemia cells, which means they don’t actually protect against infection. When there aren’t enough normal white blood cells, children might experience infections and fevers. Infections might come frequently, one after the other, or not seem to go away. Fevers are a sign of infection – but some children may experience a fever without any infection.

2. Bleeding

When discussing what are the early signs of childhood leukemia, bleeding is an important factor to understand. Several symptoms come from low blood platelet counts that occur with pediatric leukemia. Typically, platelets in the blood help to stop bleeding. But when there’s a shortage of platelets, this can lead to easy bruising and bleeding, frequent or severe nosebleeds, and bleeding gums. Remember, these symptoms can come from other issues as well – but one way of answering how leukemia is diagnosed in children, has to do with low blood platelet counts (and the subsequent symptoms above).

3. Bone and Joint Pain

When asking a child who has been diagnosed, what does leukemia pain feel like, there’s often mention of bone and joint pain. This pain is caused by a buildup of cancer cells near the surface of a child’s bones or inside their joints. Children experience growing pains throughout adolescence, but recurring pain in a child may be caused by something more serious.

4. Swelling

When parents ask what are the early signs of leukemia in children, we discuss swelling in various parts of the body. Some leukemias can spread to the lymph nodes and may be seen or felt in areas like the sides of the neck, the underarms, above the collar bone, or the groin. There are also lymph nodes inside the chest and abdomen that can swell, though these can only be seen in tests like MRI scans. There can also be swelling of the face, neck, arms, and upper chest. This is due to an enlarged thymus that presses on the vein that carries blood from the arms and heads back to the heart. Known as SVC syndrome, if a child has this, their skin might also appear blue-red in color. This is a serious syndrome and can include additional symptoms like dizziness or headaches. There may also be swelling in the child’s belly, due to leukemia cells collecting in the liver and spleen.

5. Loss of Appetite

Many parents want to know how you can test for leukemia at home, and a good place to start is the kitchen table. If your child is experiencing a loss of appetite, this might be due to the liver or an enlarged spleen pressing against organs (like the stomach). When this happens, your child might eat a small amount of food, yet feel full. Over time, this can lead to a loss of appetite and weight loss.

6. Trouble Breathing (and Coughing)

Certain types of pediatric leukemia can affect structures in the chest – like the thymus or lymph nodes. When these are enlarged, they may press on the trachea which can lead to trouble breathing and coughing. Sometimes, when the white blood cell count is high, leukemia cells can build up in the blood vessels of the lungs, which can also lead to difficulty breathing.

7. Additional Symptoms

In cases where children have leukemia that has spread to the brain and spinal cord, there can be additional symptoms. These include weakness, seizures, vomiting, blurred vision, and headaches. The patient may also have trouble concentrating or issues with their balance. In children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), they may also experience what appear to be rashes. These small, dark spots are actually collections of cancerous cells that have spread to the skin. This is referred to as chloroma or granulocytic sarcoma.

What Are the Early Signs of Leukemia in Adults?

Now that we’ve answered what are the early signs of childhood cancer, let’s talk about the first signs of leukemia in adults.

Many of the symptoms that children experience are also experienced by adults, and symptoms vary based on the type of leukemia, how fast it grows, and at what stage the leukemia is diagnosed. Leukemia symptoms in adults may resemble the flu. Keep in mind that with the flu, the symptoms will typically subside as you get better; while leukemia symptoms will typically last longer than two weeks. In general, here’s what to look for:

1. Fevers, Chills, and Night Sweats

Fevers are common leukemia symptoms in adults. Though this can easily be mistaken for a flu symptom, it’s important to monitor how frequently the temperatures occur and what your temperature is. Often, fevers will be accompanied by chills and night sweats.

2. Petechiae

Petechiae is the term used for tiny red spots that show up on the skin. These pinpoint, round spots happen due to bleeding under the skin and are a symptom of chronic leukemia. Many patients ask exactly what do leukemia spots look like; they may resemble a rash and tend to be red, brown, or purple.

3. Easy Bruising and Bleeding

Bruising and bleeding is a normal occurrence and can happen for many reasons. However, if you find that you’re bruising more easily and bleeding more frequently, this may be a symptom of chronic leukemia.

4. Frequent Infections

Similar to the common leukemia symptom in children, adults may experience infections as well. These infections might be more frequent than usual and might last for longer than they otherwise would.

5. Sudden Weight Loss

Weight loss is another symptom to be aware of when covering what are early signs of leukemia. Sudden, unexpected weight loss is experienced by an estimated 40% of people when they are first diagnosed with cancer. With blood cancer, this can happen when the cancerous cells are using up the body’s energy supplies. These cancer cells can grow quickly and disrupt the way the body is used to functioning. Lack of appetite can also be a cause for weight loss.3

6. Weakness and Fatigue

Weakness and fatigue are also symptoms that cancer patients experience early on. It may feel difficult to perform your usual activities, like taking out the trash or going for a walk around the neighborhood. If you’re curious about what are the symptoms of end stage leukemia, worsening weakness and fatigue are at the top of the list. Patients will spend more time in bed, sleeping and resting, with a decreased ability to walk.

7. Swelling

Like children, adults will experience noticeable swelling in the neck, armpits, and groin when leukemia has spread to the lymph nodes. Due to the build-up of abnormal blood cells in the liver or spleen, the patient may also notice swelling in the upper left side of the abdomen.

8. Additional Symptoms

Adults may also experience shortness of breath, abdominal discomfort, and headaches.

Symptoms vary slightly between adults and children, but overall, leukemia symptoms include a combination of weight loss, infections, bruising and bleeding, weakness, and swelling and fatigue. With the right information, we hope you’ll feel empowered to take the next steps toward a doctor’s visit.

Not you know the early signs of leukemia and what possible leukemia symptom looks like, you receive the tests or cancer care you need if you are diagnosed with leukemia. Different types of leukemia have also been discussed, from acute myelogenous leukemia to acute lymphoblastic leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia, you are aware of a few possible types of this cancer.

Whether you’d like more information about what causes leukemia, how to treat it holistically, or some ideas for a healing leukemia diet – feel free to reach out to our team today.

Finding Your Leukemia Doctor

At Immunity Therapy Center, we take an alternative approach to traditional cancer treatment methods, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other invasive methods such as a stem cell transplant or a bone marrow transplant. Our alternative treatment options, including magnetic therapy for cancer, magnetic cancer treatment, and utilizing magnets that kill cancer cells, are unique to each patient depending on their diagnosis and needs. We address a spectrum of conditions from childhood cancer, including treatments for leukemia and treatments for neuroblastoma, to ensure personalized and effective care.


Written By: Dr. Adolfo Carrillo

Dr. Adolfo Carrillo is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.

Dr. Carrillo has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista for over 5 years as a treating physician at the Immunity the Immunity Therapy Center. Dr. Carrillo is a charismatic Doctor whose knowledge and commitment to patient care and bringing healing to patients is a valuable asset to our center.



  1. Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia.
  2. Leukemia.
  3. Blood Cancer. Blood Cancer Symptoms: Unexplained Weight Loss.
  4. What is Chronic Myeloid Leukemia?
  5. What is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?

Dr. Carlos Bautista is a Board Certified Medical Doctor. He received his Medical Degree from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and has more than 20 years of experience working with Alternative Medicine to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic degenerative diseases, and infectious diseases. He opened Immunity Therapy Center in 2007 with the goal of providing the highest quality medical care for more than 5,000 patients.

At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.