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 leukemia is diagnosed and what are the early signs of leukemia – you may have heard of leukemia spots or bruising. But what do leukemia bruises look like and, how do you know if it’s that or a common rash?
Let’s take a closer look at what leukemia is and what you can expect in a leukemia rash, so you can know when it’s time to seek medical help.
What is Leukemia?
Leukemia is a type of cancer that often forms from the white blood cells within the body. Leukemia can either be fast-growing or slow-growing depending on the type. Both myeloid and lymphocytic leukemia can occur depending on where they begin in the bone marrow. Leukemia is also classified as either chronic or acute.
This form of blood cancer grows in the soft interior of the bones. Since leukemia cancer cells grow faster than healthy cells, these abnormal white blood cells will begin to overcrowd the body and can lead to a high number of insufficient cells within the blood.
According to data from the National Cancer Institute, the four most common types of leukemia are as follows:
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL); also referred to as acute lymphoblastic leukemia
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL); also referred to as acute lymphoblastic leukemia
When it comes to diagnosis, leukemia is often discovered through blood tests, bone marrow tests, physical exams, imaging tests, and biopsies.
Common Symptoms of leukemia
While not all forms of leukemia present symptoms, some patients may develop a number of different signs to look out for. These symptoms may include:
- Bruising easily
- Fever and chills
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph node
- Bone pain
Regardless of the cancer type or cancer care you have been receiving, you may be at the end stages of your leukemia journey and wondering what terminal leukemia symptoms look like. At this stage, it is important to surround yourself with family who can make sure you are as comfortable as possible and also look after your mental health as much as possible.
Petechiae is another term for leukemia blood spots. People with leukemia may notice tiny red blood 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 petechiae looks 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.
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 a change in consciousness. Being able to decipher what a leukemia rash looks 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 and specialized cancer care if needed.
Abnormal Bleeding Under the Skin
Leukemia disrupts the body’s production of healthy blood cells and 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 leukemia looks 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.
When discussing what a leukemia rash looks 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.
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.
Morbilliform Drug Eruption
For patients with acute or chronic 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.
Sweet’s Syndrome Rash
There are also rare syndromes to note when patients ask what leukemia looks 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.
Another important rash to note when talking about what a leukemia rash looks 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.
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.
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.
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 leukemia pain feels 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.
- Flea bites
- Fifth disease
- Contact dermatitis
- Allergic eczema
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease
- Diaper rash
- Chicken Pox
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Drug allergy
- 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 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 when it comes to symptoms of adult and childhood leukemia:
- Easy bruising and bleeding, including recurring nosebleeds
- 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 leukemia bruises 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.
Written By: Dr. David Alvarez
Dr. David Alvarez is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Xochicalco and Certified by the American Heart Association (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support).
Dr. Alvarez has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista as an Assistant Medical Director at the Immunity Therapy Center for over 6 years. He provides daily on site patient care and participates on the medical board on research and development of patient treatment plans and programs. Dr. Alvarez is a knowledgeable and compassionate Doctor committed to helping patients get to where they want to be health wise through a more holistic and comprehensive approach.
- Luo, Elaine. “What Causes Petechiae?” healthline.com, September 13, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/petechiae. Accessed May 29, 2020.
- Luo, Elaine. “Rash.” healthline.com, August 13, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/rashes#causes. Accessed May 29, 2020.
- 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.
- 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.
- Leukemia. The American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemia.html. Accessed May 29, 2020.
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.