Leukemia and Lymphoma Symptoms and Diagnosis

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Leukemia and lymphoma are not diagnosed based on symptoms alone. Many symptoms overlap, or are not specific to either disease, while some other symptoms may be more characteristic of one disease or the other.

Symptoms of Lymphoma

The most common sign of lymphoma is enlarged lymph nodes. Lymph nodes may be felt as lumps in the neck, armpits or groin. Individuals may also experience less specific symptoms like fever and weight loss.

Find out more about the warning signs and symptoms of lymphoma:

  • Warning Signs of Lymphoma: Learn about the most common signs and symptoms of lymphoma, and compare with leukemia.
  • What are B-symptoms? These three symptoms are considered important in predicting how lymphoma is likely to behave. They are used in staging of lymphomas, adding a B to the stage.
  • Are enlarged lymph nodes always a sign of lymphoma? While enlarged lymph nodes are a major symptom, they don't always mean you have lymphoma. Here are other causes.
  • What are lymph nodes? All of this talk about lymph nodes may make you realize that you don't really know what they are and what function they have apart from lymphoma. Here is the answer.

Symptoms of Leukemia

The most common types of leukemia can produce symptoms such as bone and joint pain, fatigue, weakness, pale skin, easy bleeding or bruising, fever, weight loss, and other symptoms, including swollen lymph nodes, spleen and liver.

The signs and symptoms of leukemia are often vague and may include frequent infections. Find out more about these signs and symptoms and what causes them.

  • Leukemia Signs and Symptoms: The most common symptoms of leukemia are vague and non-specific. Learn about the eight most common symptoms.
  • Symptoms of Acute Leukemia in Children: Find out more about the symptoms, which can include anemia, bruising or bleeding, frequent infections, bone or joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL): This type of leukemia has some characteristic symptoms involving bleeding and clotting in addition to the usual non-specific symptoms.
  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL): This type of leukemia mostly strikes children. In addition to the usual non-specific symptoms, it can have neurological symptoms if it penetrates into the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML): As many as 40 percent of CML patients had no symptoms at all -- it was found on a routine checkup or visit for another ailment.

Diagnosis and Testing

Doctors use a variety of testing methods to diagnose blood cancers, stage them, and determine their response to various treatments. Initial diagnosis of lymphoma and leukemia requires a sample, or biopsy specimen. This might be a lymph node biopsy in lymphoma or a bone marrow smear and biopsy in leukemia. In both diseases, additional testing of the cells is performed, including microscopic appearance but also testing for specific markers and genes.

  • Diagnosing Lymphoma: When lymphoma is suspected, you can expect blood tests and a lymph node biopsy to make a diagnosis and determine the type of lymphoma. Chest x-rays, PET/CT scans and other tests may be performed to stage the lymphoma.
  • Diagnosing Leukemia: Leukemia is diagnosed with a a complete blood count, peripheral blood smear, and bone marrow tests. Spinal fluid may also be tested. 
  • Diagnosing Myeloma: Learn about the testing done for a myeloma diagnosis, including physical exam and history, blood and urine tests, bone marrow tests and x-rays.
  • The Node Biopsy: Find out what to expect in a lymph node biopsy, which will often be performed if lymphoma is suspected.
  • Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy: Learn about why bone marrow tests are done, what to expect step by step, and what the results tell your doctor.


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Finnegan,K.(2007). Chronic myeloproliferative disorders. In Ciesla, B. (Ed.) Hematology in Practice (pp.187-203). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: F.A. Davis Company.

Lichtman, M. and Beutler, E.(2006). Initial Approach to the Patient: History and Physical Examination. In Lichtman, M., Beutler,E., Kipps,T. et al(eds.)Williams Hematology- 7th edition. (pp. 3-11). New York, New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Ryan, D.(2006). Examination of the Blood. In Lichtman, M., Beutler,E., Kipps,T. et al(eds.)Williams Hematology- 7th edition. (pp. 11-21). New York, New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Ryan, D. and Felgar, R. (2006). Examination of the Marrow. In Lichtman, M., Beutler,E., Kipps,T. et al(eds.)Williams Hematology- 7th edition. (pp. 1461- 1483). New York, New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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