5 types of leukemia rash
- Petechiae: Bursting of the tiny blood vessels called capillaries can cause blood to ooze under the skin. This blood then appears in the form of tiny red, purple, or brown spots called petechiae. Petechiae are completely flat rashes that do not blanch (turn paler) upon pressing the skin.
- Bruising: Frequent and easy bruising is a common symptom of leukemia. It usually occurs in places such as the back, hands, or legs. These bruises often grow larger and don't go away, and may or may cause pain.
- Sweet's syndrome: Sweet's syndrome is a condition linked to leukemia that is characterized by high fever and painful rash in the form of small, red bumps. The rash can appear anywhere on the body, the most common places being the arms, face, and trunk. Bumps grow quickly and form clusters. Sometimes, joint pain and symptoms such as arthritis may be involved.
- Leukemia cutis: Also known as “acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis,” leukemia cutis is a term for leukemia that spreads to the skin. This is an unusual form of rash and is most common in people with acute myeloid leukemia. Rashes appear as little mounds under the skin and can range in size from tiny to quite large. Leukemia cutis can appear anywhere, but the most common sites include the head, neck, and trunk.
- Chemotherapy rash: Chemotherapy for leukemia can cause skin rash anywhere on the body. The rash is often called chemotherapy rash and may itch or not bother you at all.
What causes leukemia rash?
Rash in leukemia may be related or unrelated to cancer.
With leukemia, the bone marrow produces several abnormal (cancerous) blood cells. These abnormal blood cells do not die, but serve no physiological function. However, they compete with healthy cells for oxygen and nutrients. This causes the healthy cells to die of starvation, leading to a deficiency of healthy blood cells.
How is leukemia rash treated?
Treatment may depend on the type of rash:
- Petechiae or bruises usually resolve with chemotherapy sessions. Sometimes, your doctor may suggest other treatments such as radiation or stem cell transplant, depending on the type of leukemia you have and your overall health.
- If you have developed Sweet’s syndrome, your doctor may put you on a course of oral corticosteroids.
- If you are on chemotherapy and you develop a rash, let your doctor know. The rash may be a side effect of one of chemotherapy medications. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter or prescription medications to minimize the rash. Chemotherapy rash is sensitive to extreme environmental changes such as heat and cold and even to bright sunlight. Therefore, remember to wear proper clothing and sunscreen whenever you venture out under the sun.
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Sambasivan A, Keely K, Mandel K, Johnston DL. Leukemia cutis: An unusual rash in a child. CMAJ. 2010;182(2):171-173. Leukemia. https://www.health.harvard.edu/cancer/leukemia
Robak E, Robak T. Skin lesions in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Leuk Lymphoma. 2007 May;48(5):855-865.
Sweet's syndrome. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sweets-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351117
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