Leukemia is a blood disease that hinders the body’s ability to fight off disease. Keep an eye out for these telltale early warning signs.

A potent army of infection fighters live in your body. They are white blood cells, and when healthy, they grow and divide as needed to prevent and wipe out disease. But in people with leukemia, these cells kick into overdrive, reproducing and crowding out red blood cells and platelets needed for carrying oxygen throughout your body and transporting carbon dioxide to your lungs to exhale.

When your red blood cell count gets low, oftentimes it signals an iron or vitamin deficiency. You might become anemic, which makes you feel tired, cold, have an irregular heartbeat and makes your skin pale. But these lingering symptoms could point to something more serious occurring in your body, including leukemia.

There is nothing you can do to prevent leukemia. But if you suspect you could have the disease, you can watch for warning signs in hopes of catching it early.

Warning signs 

The most common signs of having leukemia include:

  • Fatigue even though you have rested
  • Swelling in your stomach area. A buildup of white blood cells can cause your liver and spleen to enlarge, creating a swollen belly or making you feel full.
  • Fever or chills that won’t go away or return frequently
  • Chronic infections. Many patients think they have a lingering cold.
  • Bruising easily, even with the slightest bumps
  • Loss of appetite and losing weight without trying
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night
  • Tiny red spots on your skin, known as petechiae
  • Swollen lymph nodes. You might notice these as small ball-like lumps under the skin. They are most commonly felt on the sides of your neck, in the groin, or in your underarm area. Swollen lymph nodes in your chest and abdomen can only be detected by an imaging test.
  • Recurrent nosebleeds that start for no reason
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

As an “MDS Center of Excellence,” the Blood Diseases Center at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine at USC is a world-renowned treatment program for both blood cancers and non-cancerous blood disorders. Our experts use the latest technologies and cutting-edge tools – including PET scans, CT scans and access to advanced genomic profiling options – to treat and study diseases of the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic and other related systems.

“At Keck Medicine of USC, we have leading leukemia specialists and access to state-of-the-art clinical trials for patients,” said Kevin Kelly, MD, associate professor of medicine at Keck School of Medicine and a practicing physician at the Blood Diseases Center.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://cancer.keckmedicine.org.

By Heidi Tyline King