Believe it or not, most of the new blood cells your body produces come from your bone marrow—a fatty substance found in large quantities in the bulbous, bulky ends of your bones. For those suffering from leukemia, one of these new blood cells mutates and becomes cancerous.
It then starts to clone—or make copies of itself—and that’s how the disease progresses. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get healthy living tips and more delivered straight to your inbox!)
“For adults, the typical age [for leukemia onset] is anywhere from 50 to 70,” says Martha Wadleigh, MD, clinical director of the Adult Leukemia Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
There are several “subtypes” of leukemia, which are defined by the kind of blood cells that mutate, and also by how early in the cell production process that mutation takes place, explains Meredith Barnhart, MS, an information specialist with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Information Resource Center.
Both Barnhart and Wadleigh make it clear that, when it comes to leukemia, there is no single sign or symptom. (Here are 10 cancer symptoms most people ignore.) “The symptoms depend on the subtype,” Barnhart says.
But there are some overlapping symptoms that tend to show up among those suffering from the more common types of adult leukemiaHere’s what to watch out for:
“When leukemia develops, new [blood] cells that are damaged by cancer can overtake bone marrow, and so make it difficult for healthy cells to grow,” Barnhart explains. “Because you have fewer healthy cells, you may develop anemia, which can lead to pale skin.” Anemia could also cause your hands to feel cold all the time, experts say.