People who have leukemia are prone to skin-related problems. These range from rashes to bruises and are commonly seen in both children and adults.

When discussing how is leukemia diagnosed and what are the early signs on leukemia — you may have heard of leukemia spots. But what do leukemia spots look like and how do you know if it’s that or a common rash?

Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect in a leukemia rash, so you can know when it’s time to seek medical help.

Petechiae 

Petechiae is another term for leukemia spots. People with leukemia may notice tiny red spots on their skin — these pinpoints are called petechiae. They’re caused by broken blood vessels, or capillaries, underneath the skin. When children and adults have chronic or acute leukemia, their bodies don’t have enough blood cell platelets to seal off the broken blood vessel, which causes the spots to appear. If you’re wondering what does petechiae look like in leukemia, it tends to resemble a rash and can come in the form of small purple, red, or brown spots on the skin. It’s often found on the arms, legs, stomach, and buttocks, though you might also find it on the inside of the mouth or the eyelids. 1, 2

Petechiae can easily be confused with a common rash, yet there’s one main difference. When you press on petechiae, it won’t turn white; a rash, however, will turn pale in comparison. In addition to acute or chronic leukemia, it’s good to note that petechiae can also be caused by a variety of other conditions. Two common causes are reactions to medications and infections.

 Strep throat, for example, is a bacterial infection that causes a sore throat. Along with symptoms like swollen tonsils and swollen glands, it can also cause petechiae.

Partaking in activities that cause you to strain can also tear a blood vessel in your face, neck, and chest. These include coughing, crying, vomiting, lifting weights, or giving birth. 

Conditions and infections like scurvy, sepsis, and scarlet fever can also lead to petechiae. So can damage to the skin, like carrying a heavy bag, experiencing blunt force, or a bite wound.

Medications like blood thinners, antidepressants, and sedatives can also lead to petechiae. If you’re concerned, call a doctor, particularly if your petechiae is accompanied by fever, trouble breathing, or change in consciousness. Being able to decipher what does a leukemia rash look like versus a normal rash can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with additional leukemia symptoms and reach out to a health care professional for a proper diagnosis.

Abnormal Bleeding Under the Skin

Leukemia disrupts the body’s production of blood cell platelets. Platelets are what help the blood to clot and to stop abnormal bleeding. When platelets become low, bruises can happen more easily. When talking about what does leukemia look like, many of our patients will notice they bruise spontaneously or without much force to warrant a typical bruise. 

Leukemia bruises might resemble a normal bruise, but you might find there are more of them than usual. Sometimes, they’ll occur in an unusual area of the body, like the back. 3

Leukemia Cutis

When discussing what does leukemia rash look like and what are the symptoms of end stage leukemia, leukemia cutis is often mentioned. Leukemia cutis appears like red-brown or purple firm bumps or nodules. These are the leukemia cells depositing in your skin. This particular symptom tends to happen as acute or chronic leukemia progresses, when the white blood cells, or neoplastic leukocytes, that are found in the bone marrow start to filter into the layers of the skin and cause lesions. Typically, there is nothing a doctor can do to specifically treat this type of skin rash, aside from treating the specific type of leukemia itself. 4

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the hair follicles. It can be caused by viruses, fungi, or ingrown hairs. This particular type of infection happens in patients with leukemia, as their body is more susceptible to skin infections (that’s because leukemia inhibits the development of mature white blood cells, which help us to fight off infections). Often, folliculitis can be treated with cream or oral medication. 4

Morbilliform Drug Eruption

For patients with leukemia, morbilliform drug eruption is a common allergic reaction. It resembles measles and is a reaction that happens 7-10 days after a drug is initially taken. 4

Sweet’s Syndrome Rash

There are also rare syndromes to note when patients ask what does leukemia look like as it progresses. Sweet’s syndrome rash looks like pink bumps or insect bites. It happens due to abnormal cells that are entering the skin and may be accompanied by fever or chills. 4

Chemo Rashes

Another important rash to note when talking about what does leukemia rash look like is the rash that can accompany chemotherapy treatment. Chemo rashes can often look like acne and can be present on the scalp, neck, chest, and face. They might feel irritated or they may burn and sting. If you do experience chemo rashes during your treatment, your doctor can help to prescribe something that will alleviate your pain and irritation. 4

Vasculitis

Vasculitis is another skin rash that can happen in leukemia patients. It resembles purple spots or lesions that develop on the skin and can also look like clusters of petechiae. 4

Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that can look like white, pink, red, or brown patches. It’s typically seen on the chest, back, neck, and arms. 4

What Else Can Cause Skin Rashes?

Remember that although patients with chronic or acute leukemia are prone to a range of skin rashes and infections, skin rashes can also come from a variety of other issues. Many patients ask what does leukemia pain feel like, and we discuss the uncomfortable nature of skin rashes and issues — there are, however, many additional causes for skin rashes that we should note. 2 

  • Flea bites
  • Fifth disease
  • Rosacea
  • Impetigo 
  • Ringworm
  • Contact dermatitis 
  • Allergic eczema 
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • Diaper rash
  • Eczema 
  • Psoriasis
  • Chicken Pox
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Shingles
  • Cellulitis
  • Drug allergy
  • Scabies
  • Measles
  • Tick bite
  • Seborrheic eczema
  • Scarlet fever
  • Kawasaki disease

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you’ve tried home-medications like creams and oatmeal baths and your condition persists, reach out to a doctor. In addition to petechiae, it’s especially important to be aware of other leukemia symptoms. 

Petechiae or skin rashes and spots in addition to other symptoms of leukemia might cause your doctor to call for a blood test (and a biopsy and imaging tests as well). Keep in mind that not every patient will experience these symptoms — you might experience a one or a few and the severity of the symptoms will range from person to person. Patients often wonder, “How can I test for leukemia at home?” — and the most proactive way to do that is to stay in tune with your body and know what to look for.

Here’s what you need to be aware of in children and adults when it comes to symptoms of leukemia:

  • Easy bruising and bleeding, including recurring nosebleeds
  • Anemia
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Fever and chills
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Pain or tenderness in the bones
  • Profuse sweating, especially at night

These are the four main types of leukemia:

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Knowing which type of leukemia you have will be important when you seek cancer treatment.

Now that we’ve covered what do leukemia spots look like and what rashes to be aware of, you can feel empowered about your skin health and know when it’s time to reach out to a healthcare professional. Remember, skin rashes can come and go for all types of reasons, but if there is a rash that’s persistent (and does not go away with appropriate remedies) it may be linked to something more serious.

If you have been diagnosed with leukemia and are seeking treatment, we hope you’ll reach out to us at Immunity Therapy Center for your free consultation. Our treatment program is designed to stimulate your immune system so that it can recognize and destroy cancer cells. That, in combination with natural, non-invasive, effective therapies will take advantage of your cancer cells’ weaknesses and help treat your unique cancer.

Feel free to reach out to us with any questions you have surrounding your diagnosis. Whether you’re curious about what causes leukemia, what are the symptoms of end stage leukemia, or what’s a good leukemia diet to keep you strong and fighting, our team is here for you.

We’re a passionate group of healthcare professionals, and we strive to create a holistic cancer treatment program that is 100% customized and personalized for each patient. Our targeted therapy options are less invasive than chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other traditional cancer treatment options. 

If you or someone you love is struggling, we’re here to give you the absolute best care you can (and should) receive.

From all of us at ITC, thanks for reading. We’re wishing you a healthy, happy, positive day ahead.

 

Sources:

  1. Luo, Elaine. “What Causes Petechiae?” healthline.com, September 13, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/petechiae. Accessed May 29, 2020.
  2. Luo, Elaine. “Rash.” healthline.com, August 13, 2018,  https://www.healthline.com/health/rashes#causes. Accessed May 29, 2020.
  3. Sullivan, Debra. “Symptoms of Leukemia in Pictures: Rashes and Bruises.” healthline.com, August 15, 2016, https://www.healthline.com/health/pictures-leukemia-rashes-bruises. Accessed May 29, 2020.
  4. Natale, Nicol. “Leukemia Rashes, Infections, and Bruises.” everydayhealth.com, March 27, 2019, https://www.everydayhealth.com/leukemia/rash-pictures-signs-symptoms/. Accessed May 29, 2020.