Symptoms – Bleeding & Bruising

One of the general symptoms that some people with blood cancer experience is frequent bruising or easily bleeding. Bruising is bleeding that occurs under the skin and can cause discoloration on the skin, like black, blue, or purple marks. The bruising that occurs as a side effect of some blood cancers may appear as bruises without a clear reason. That is, bruising that occurs without trauma to that part of the body.1

The bleeding that occurs as a result of some blood cancers is typically more than usual bleeding from cuts, nosebleeds, or from the gums. Women may experience heavier-than-usual menstrual periods. Some people also experience small, pinhead-sized red spots on the skin (called “petechiae”).1,2

What causes bleeding or bruising in people with blood cancer?

Blood cancer cells can multiply and crowd out healthy blood cells, including platelets. Platelets, also called thrombocytes, are a key part of clotting to stop bleeding. Platelets can stick together (coagulate) at the site of an injury to form a fibrin clot. The fibrin also creates an internal structure for new tissue to grow and healing to occur. If a person does not have a sufficient quantity of platelets, they can have difficulty forming clots and experience significant blood loss from injury. When a person does not have enough platelets, it is called thrombocytopenia.2,3

Other symptoms of blood cancer

Blood cancers may cause several general symptoms. It’s important to have these or other symptoms evaluated by a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis, since these general symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions. General symptoms that blood cancer may cause include:

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

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Headache
  • Fevers, especially without an obvious cause
  • Frequent infections4,5

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.5

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2018
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