Symptoms – Fatigue

Fatigue is extreme tiredness that isn’t relieved by sleep. It is also described as malaise, exhaustion, or lack of energy. Fatigue can feel like physical, mental, and/or emotional exhaustion, and it can impact daily life. Fatigue can be an early symptom in some blood cancers and it is also a frequent side effect from blood cancer treatment.1,2

Fatigue is one of the general symptoms that blood cancers can cause, but fatigue can also be caused by a number of other conditions. It’s important to have symptoms such as fatigue evaluated by a healthcare professional to understand the cause and receive appropriate treatment.

What causes fatigue in blood cancer?

Fatigue from blood cancer can be a result of the cancerous cells using up much of the body’s energy supplies. Cancerous cells can grow quickly, draining energy from the body’s normal functions.2

Fatigue can also be linked to weight loss and lack of appetite, other general symptoms that can be caused by blood cancer, as well as other conditions. When the body isn’t getting the proper nutrition it needs, fatigue can be a result.1

Fatigue may be one of the first symptoms someone with cancer experiences. Research suggests that as many as 40% of people with cancer report fatigue at diagnosis. Fatigue is also a common side effect from treatments for blood cancer, like chemotherapy, with up to 80% of people treated with chemotherapy reporting feeling fatigue.3 Fatigue can also be connected with depression and increased stress levels, which may be experienced by people undergoing treatment for blood cancers.1

Other symptoms of blood cancer

Blood cancers can cause several general symptoms. Because these general symptoms can 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. These symptoms 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”)2,4

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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