An acute myeloid leukemia (AML) rash may appear in the form of small spots or bruises. However, if the rash develops because leukemia cells have spread to the skin, it may look like other types of rash and cover an extensive part of the body.

On light skin, this type of rash often appears as red or purple. On dark skin, it may look darker and be less noticeable.

AML is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. AML is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults, and it usually occurs in people over the age of 40 years.

Keep reading to learn about rashes, bruises, red spots, and other symptoms of AML, as well as when to contact a doctor.

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Leukemia cells of AML may spread from the blood and bone marrow to the skin. When this occurs, it causes lumps and spots that look like ordinary rashes.

When AML spreads to the skin, it is called leukemia cutis. It affects under 10% of people with the condition and is rarely the first symptom that people with AML notice.

Leukemia cutis appears as red or purplish red, and it occasionally looks dark red or brown. It affects the outer skin layer, the inner skin layer, and the layer of tissue beneath the skin.

The rash can involve flushed skin, plaques, and scaly lesions. It most commonly appears on the trunk, arms, and legs. In some individuals, however, it may cover the whole body.

Rashes on dark skin may look different from those on light skin. For example, they may not be as noticeable. Also, rather than appearing as red, they may look dark or purple.

See pictures of leukemia rashes here.

When AML causes low platelets, it may result in the appearance of small purple or red spots on the skin. These are called petechiae. Petechiae develop because tiny blood vessels under the skin break.

The low platelet count in people with AML can mean that their bodies do not clot these breakages properly, and the red spots become noticeable.

A person with AML may notice bruises on their skin. This occurs due to their low platelet count.

Platelets usually help stop bleeding, including under the skin. Having fewer platelets can mean that bruises appear more easily or show up more clearly.

Sometimes, the red or purple spots that occur due to a low platelet count can look like bruises too.

Learn more about bruising easily here.

A person with AML may also notice that their gums become swollen. In fact, according to one 2018 article, this can be the first symptom that people with this type of leukemia notice.

People with AML may notice that they have firm, swollen gums that are more flushed than usual.

Learn about some home remedies that can help relieve gum pain here.

A person with AML may notice that they bleed more than usual.

For example, they may experience the following types of excessive bleeding due to having a low platelet count:

  • Nosebleeds: A person with AML may notice that they are having chronic or severe nosebleeds.
  • Menstrual periods: A person with AML may experience that their periods are longer or heavier than usual.
  • Bleeding gums: A person with AML may notice that their gums are bleeding more than usual. This is due to inflammation in the mouth.

Learn more about low platelet counts here.

Acute promyelocytic leukemia

Bleeding in AML may also be due to a type of AML called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).

APL is an aggressive form of cancer in which too many cells that form blood, called promyelocytes, are present in the bone marrow and blood. This causes a decrease in red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

A person with APL may notice that they have a cut that keeps oozing or a nosebleed that does not stop.

Some other bleeding-related symptoms of APL include swelling from a blood clot called deep vein thrombosis, which usually occurs in the thigh or calf, and pulmonary embolism, which refers to the blockage of an artery in the lungs due to a blood clot.

Other AML symptoms can fall into different categories.

The symptoms may be general in nature, or they may stem from low blood cell counts, high numbers of leukemia cells, or the spread of leukemia cells.

General symptoms

Some general symptoms of AML are symptoms of other conditions as well. They are usually due to conditions other than leukemia. They include:

Symptoms from low numbers of blood cells

When AML causes a reduction in red blood cells, symptoms include:

Sometimes, AML also causes a decrease in white blood cells, which usually fight infections. This can cause fevers and infections that last a long time.

Symptoms from high numbers of leukemia cells

Because leukemia cells of AML are larger than white blood cells, they have difficulty passing through tiny blood vessels.

When the cells increase in number, they can clog blood vessels, which makes it hard for tissues in the body to get enough oxygen from red blood cells. This rare medical emergency is called leukostasis.

Some of the symptoms of leukostasis are similar to those of a stroke. They include:

Leukemia cells of AML can also produce symptoms if they accumulate in other areas.

For example, if the cells build up in a joint, they can cause joint pain. If they build up in the liver and spleen, they can cause swelling of the abdomen.

Symptoms from the spread of leukemia cells

Certain symptoms stem from the spread of leukemia cells from the blood and bone marrow to other parts of the body, such as the aforementioned spread to the skin.

If the cells spread to the gums, they can cause pain, swelling, and bleeding in that area. The cells may also spread to the lymph nodes, which makes them larger.

If leukemia cells spread to the brain, it may cause:

The early symptoms of AML may be similar to those of common conditions, such as the flu.

A person who has any of the following symptoms should contact a doctor:

  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • easy bruising or bleeding
  • unexplained weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue or weakness

Treating AML early is important for improving quality of life and outlook.

Learn more about the symptoms of AML here.

An AML rash is one of a broad array of symptoms that a person with this condition may experience. The symptoms depend on which type of blood cells have reduced numbers and where in the body the cancer has spread.

If someone has any of the early symptoms of AML, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

Read this article in Spanish.