Symptoms – Aches & Pain in Arms, Legs, Bones, or Joints

One of the general symptoms caused by many blood cancers is aches in the arms, legs, or joints. The arms, legs, or joints may be painful, and joints may also have swelling. The inflammation in joints can cause further pain.1

Why does blood cancer cause aches in the arms, legs, or joints?

In leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), the bone marrow (the inner, spongy part of large bones) can become filled with cancer cells, which can cause bone or joint pain. In myeloma, masses of cancer cells can form in the bone marrow, causing bone pain in the arms, legs, back, or chest. Some myeloproliferative diseases can impair blood flow to the legs, causing pain in the feet or legs.1

Some bone pain or aches in the arms, legs, or joints can also be a side effect of treatment for blood cancers, such as treatment with radiation or chemotherapy.1

Other symptoms of blood cancer

Blood cancers can cause several general symptoms. Because these general symptoms may be caused by blood cancer or many other conditions, it’s important to have these or other symptoms evaluated by a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis. Other general symptoms of blood cancer can include:

The cancerous cells in blood cancer can crowd out healthy blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. When the healthy blood cells are negatively impacted, blood cancers can cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Headache
  • Repeated infections, or infections that won’t go away
  • Fevers, especially without an obvious cause
  • Frequent bruises, especially without a clear reason
  • Easily bleeding, such as from cuts, from the gums, or frequent nose bleeds
  • Small, pinhead-sized red spots on the skin (called “petechiae”)1,2

It’s important to remember that not everyone with blood cancer experiences all these symptoms. There are many different types of blood cancer, each with its own unique list of symptoms, and each individual has a unique experience and combination of symptoms.

Diagnosing blood cancer

To diagnose blood cancer, doctors may use several tests, including a physical exam, medical history, blood tests (like a complete blood count, blood chemistry, blood smear, and blood clotting tests), bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, lymph node biopsy, lumbar puncture, and imaging tests (like a chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound). Some of these tests are also used to rule out other conditions.2

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2018
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