An acute myeloid leukemia (AML) rash may appear in the form of small spots or bruises.

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

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

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

The following images show some ways in which leukemia can affect the skin. More detail is below.

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, doctors call it leukemia cutis. It affects fewer than 1 in 10 people with the condition and is rarely the first symptom that people with AML notice.

Leukemia cutis appears 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 torso, arms, and legs. In some people, it may cover the whole body.

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

When AML causes low platelet levels in the blood, it may result in the appearance of small purple, red, or dark spots on the skin. These are known as petechiae.

Petechiae develop because tiny blood vessels under the skin break. If areas of petechiae join together, they may form larger patches. These are known as purpura.

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

What is the difference between petechiae and purpura?

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. 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. They can also have bleeding gums.

There may also be mouth sores, petechiae, or both in the oral cavity.

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

Sweet syndrome is a complication of AML that can cause painful inflamed nodules to appear on the skin. A person may also have a fever.

It tends to occur when a person has high levels of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell.

Doctors do not know precisely why it happens, but genetic and environmental factors appear to play a role. It can occur with infections, and there appears to be a link with some types of cancer, including AML and other forms of leukemia.

Mastocytosis is not a cancer, but it is a disease that can occur with AML. It happens when too many mast cells — a type of white blood cell — build up in tissues throughout the body and cause damage.

On the skin, it can lead to small, flat, or raised lesions with inflamed, itchy skin around them.

What is mast cell leukemia?

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 can experience periods that 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.

Bleeding with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL)

Bleeding in AML may also be due to a type of AML known as APL.

APL is an aggressive form of cancer in which too many cells that make blood — 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, known as deep vein thrombosis, which usually occurs in a thigh or calf. This can lead to a pulmonary embolism, which is when a blood clot causes a blockage of an artery in the lungs.

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:

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

Learn more about the symptoms of AML here.

Below are some commonly asked questions about rashes and acute myeloid leukemia.

Where does a leukemia rash appear?

A leukemia rash can appear anywhere on the body. Some common locations are the chest, trunk, legs, feet, neck, face, hands, and arms.

Is a myeloid leukemia rash itchy?

Mastocytosis is a disease that can occur with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and can lead to small, flat, or raised lesions that are itchy.

What are the red flags for myeloma?

Myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow.

Red flags, or signs, that a person has myeloma (also known as multiple myeloma) include:

  • bone pain and weakness
  • low blood count
  • high levels of calcium in the blood
  • numbness in the legs
  • confusion
  • dizziness

If a person has any of the above symptoms or is concerned they may have myeloma, they should talk with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Does multiple myeloma make you itch?

Later-stage multiple myeloma can damage the kidneys. As the kidneys start to fail, this can lead to symptoms including itching, leg swelling, weakness, and shortness of breath.

An AML rash is one of a broad range 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.