Symptoms – Loss of Appetite

One of the general symptoms that some people with blood cancer may experience is loss of appetite. Loss of appetite can mean having little or no interest in food, rejecting even favorite foods, or quickly becoming full after only eating a small amount. If loss of appetite persists, it can lead to weight loss, as a person consumes less calories than usual, and the body may lose muscle mass and strength due to poor nutrition.1,2

What causes loss of appetite in blood cancer?

Some cancer cells may produce substances that change the way the body creates energy from food that is eaten (metabolism) and these toxins may make a person have a lack of appetite. Some blood cancers also cause the spleen to become enlarged, and an enlarged spleen can press on the stomach, making a person feel full.2

Loss of appetite can also be a side effect of blood cancer treatments, like chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may cause nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, dry mouth, or changes in how foods taste or smell, all of which can lead to a loss of appetite.2

In addition, some people undergoing treatment for blood cancer may experience depression. Depression can also suppress the appetite.2

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. General symptoms that blood cancer may cause include:

The cancerous cells in blood cancer can crowd out the healthy blood cells (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”)1,3

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.1

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2018
View References
  1. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/. Accessed 11/1/17.
  2. Appetite loss, Cancer.net. Available at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/appetite-loss. Accessed 11/1/17.
  3. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Available at http://www.lls.org/. Accessed 10/30/17.