Signs And Symptoms Of Leukemia Every Woman Needs To Know

Leukemia is notoriously low on noticeable symptoms and even those that manifest are easily mistaken for signs of flu or just fatigue. Women may also ignore unexplained weight loss, anemia, or mid-cycle or heavy menstrual bleeding. Don’t, though! If you feel excessive tiredness, have fever or chills, night sweats, catch infections more often, bruise easily, have bleeding gums or frequent nosebleeds, have it checked immediately.

The big C is never a pleasant thing to deal with. But turning a blind eye on symptoms of cancer or hoping they are caused by something else can be worse. Unfortunately, a lot of women ignore early warning signs and just soldier on with their daily lives. And that can prove deadly. As with any cancer, early detection and treatment play a vital role in determining your body’s ability to fight leukemia – and your chances of survival.

Symptoms Of Leukemia Can Be Missed

Leukemia affects your blood and bone marrow, with the body producing excessive amounts of white blood cells. When your system makes too many lymphocytes, you have lymphocytic leukemia or lymphoblastic leukemia; and if the excessive production of granulocytes is the problem, it is known as myelogenous leukemia or myeloid or myelocytic leukemia.

As the number of abnormal white leukemia cells crowd out your bone marrow, normal blood cells aren’t produced. And this shortage of normal blood cells brings on the typical symptoms of the illness.1 But symptoms of leukemia, not just for women, but everyone, can be easily missed. In fact, some kinds of leukemia like chronic lymphocytic leukemia may never result in any symptoms at all! It is spotted only when you have a normal blood test and the numbers in your blood profile are off.

For certain kinds of acute lymphocytic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia, the early signs and symptoms are so close to flu symptoms, you could easily mistake them for a common bug. A fever or tiredness may be dismissed as being overwork or sleep deprivation or the sign of an impending cold.2

Women Tend To Overlook Signs Of Leukemia

An estimated 19,646 women were diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 alone. A further 10,022 women succumbed to it that same year. A higher proportion of women with leukemia died from it compared to men, as a proportion of those diagnosed with the illness.3

While leukemia may be infamous for being the cancer that strikes children and young adults, in reality, it affects more adults than it does children.4 And women often get a raw deal here. As a woman, you may overlook some symptoms more than a man might. You could chalk it up to your busy life and the many hats you wear; or you may see some symptoms as a side effect of hormonal changes linked to your menstrual period. That said, do always take any of these symptoms seriously should you experience them.


The American Cancer Society lists fever as one of the top symptoms of cancer that you must not ignore. Because cancer affects your body’s immune system, it can make you weaker against infections. As your body struggles to fight off infection, the result may be a fever. It is one of the early signs of leukemia, so don’t ignore it – especially if you are at risk of the illness or have seen other signs that may be red flags.5

Tiredness, Weakness, Or Feeling Out Of Breath

This is something we have all felt after an especially hard day. Unfortunately, sometimes, fatigue can signal the presence of a cancer like leukemia. This could be accompanied by some or all of these symptoms as well6:

  1. General weakness/tiredness
  2. Lightheadedness or dizziness
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Palpitations

Pale Skin And Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia tends to affect more women than it does men.7 Many women assume the anemia they’re experiencing is due to a deficiency of this mineral. But anemia can be a symptom of leukemia as well.

As mentioned earlier, leukemia causes the crowding out of normal blood-making cells in your bone marrow. With lower red blood count than normal, you will start to see signs of anemia due to inadequate oxygen supply. This includes fatigue as well as headaches, chills, and shortness of breath.8

Night Sweats

Excessive sweating, especially at night, is something that has dozens of possible causes from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to obstructive sleep apnea, menopause, and even low blood sugar. But it is also an early sign of leukemia. However, as the UK National Health Service points out, you are likely to have other symptoms accompanying the night sweats. So do watch for other symptoms of leukemia when you have night sweats and get tested to rule out the problem.9

Mid-Cycle Bleeding And Heavy Menstrual Flow

You may also notice an uncharacteristic bleed midway through your menstrual cycle. This is usually more than a little routine spotting that you might have experienced in the past. Some women with leukemia also experience heavy menstrual flow during their period as a symptom of their condition.10

Bruising, Petechiae, Gum And Nose Bleeds

When your body bruises very easily or very often, you should be aware that this could be a symptom of leukemia. Bleeding gums or very severe or frequent nosebleeds are other warning signs. Some people also develop tiny flat red dots called petechiae on the skin. These are the result of bleeding below your skin.11

Swollen Lymph Nodes And Spleen

Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes are another symptom of leukemia.12 You may notice swollen glands in your underarms or your neck. Some women who have an enlarged spleen may feel discomfort or even pain in the region beneath the ribs, to the left side.13

Frequent Infections

Your blood is core to your body’s immune function. Leukemia, unfortunately, wreaks havoc on this balance, with cancer cells crowding out the normal healthy white blood cells that fight infections.

Without an adequate defense system, your body is susceptible to infections. And that’s why people with leukemia may also notice that they fall ill more often and more easily. Infections, when they do happen, also tend to be more severe and last much longer than normal.14

Weight Loss

Losing weight is something most women tend to welcome. However, unexplained weight loss is not a great sign and may be the result of an underlying problem, including leukemia or other cancers. The weight loss happens because the body consumes a lot of energy and eats into its stores to deal with the added pressure of leukemia. Even with the same diet and activity levels you’d always kept up, you may see the weight slipping off you.

If your spleen is enlarged, the effect is amplified. You may wind up eating less due to a false sense of fullness because the swollen spleen may be squashing your stomach.15


Leukemia. Leukaemia CARE.

Leukemia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leukemia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[Leukemia]( “Leukemia”). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore. American Cancer Society.

Iron-deficiency anemia. The Office on Women’s Health

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. American Cancer Society.

Night Sweat. National Health Service.

Symptoms of leukemia. Canadian Cancer Society.

National Institutes of Health. “Leukemia/Lymphoma Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment.” NIH Medline Plus, Summer 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 3 Page 11.

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Cancer Research UK.

Important Notice: This article was originally published in where all credits are due.