Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and Outlook

Cutaneous leukemia is a rare complication of leukemia. It develops when cancerous white blood cells invade the skin and cause the appearance of plaques and lesions. Cutaneous leukemia usually occurs when the leukemia is at an advanced stage.Leukemia is a group of blood cell cancers that rarely affect the skin. The best treatment approach for cutaneous leukemia is to treat the underlying leukemia.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms, treatment options, and outlook associated with cutaneous leukemia.

What causes cutaneous leukemia?

Irina Efremova/Stocksy United

Experts don’t yet know how leukemia cells migrate to the skin and cause cutaneous leukemia.

Skin lesions can form in anyone with leukemia. However, they occur more frequently in people with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This is the most common form of acute leukemia in adults.

What are the symptoms of cutaneous leukemia?

Cutaneous leukemia is usually a sign of advanced leukemia. In very rare cases, this may be the first sign of this condition.

Cutaneous leukemia can be very different for each person who has it. Some of the most common characteristics include:

  • firm or rubbery nodules or growths
  • papules or bumps
  • atypical patches or patches of tissue

These spots can be red, brown, yellow or gray. In children, they can be blue or purple. The lesions may be clustered in one place or spread out, and they may occur all over the body.

Cutaneous leukemia affects less than 13% of people with AML.

What does cutaneous leukemia look like?

Cutaneous leukemia pictures


Cutaneous leukemia is caused by the infiltration of leukemic cells.

Cutaneous leukemia lesions are shown.

Photography by DermNet New Zealand


Cutaneous leukemia can occur with any form of leukemia.

A cutaneous leukemia nodule is shown.

Photography by DermNet New Zealand


Cutaneous leukemia presents with papules, nodules and plaques. The skin will be dry and eczema-like with blisters.

A person is shown with cutaneous leukemia on the face.

Photograph courtesy of Indian J Dermatol/NCBI

How do doctors diagnose cutaneous leukemia?

Doctors diagnose cutaneous leukemia by diagnosing the underlying leukemia. Early diagnosis is essential, as the presence of cutaneous leukemia may mean that the underlying leukemia is more aggressive and requires more aggressive treatment.

A healthcare professional will perform a skin biopsy to evaluate the tissue under a microscope. Immunophenotyping, which identifies cancer cells using antigens and markers, is also useful for diagnosing leukemia.

Doctors also usually order blood tests and bone marrow biopsies to confirm the diagnosis of leukemia.

If the person has never been diagnosed with leukemia, it can be difficult to determine the cause of the skin lesions. Cutaneous leukemia has signs and symptoms similar to many other conditions, including:

What are the treatments for cutaneous leukemia?

Treatment for cutaneous leukemia focuses on treating the underlying leukemia. Treatment options typically include:

  • Chemotherapy: This treatment uses drugs to slow or stop the replication of cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy: This treatment uses radiation to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: This treatment uses drugs that interfere with the function of cancer cells.

Treatments for leukemia can cause other skin problems, such as sores or itching. Doctors may recommend topical creams or gels to provide relief.

What is the outlook for cutaneous leukemia?

The outlook for cutaneous leukemia is generally unfavorable because the disease usually appears in the late stages of leukemia. At this time, cancer cells have spread to distant parts of the body. As with many cancers, survival rates for leukemia are best in the early stages of the disease.

Some people experience remission of cutaneous leukemia with aggressive chemotherapy.

Is it possible to prevent cutaneous leukaemia?

Since cutaneous leukemia is a complication of leukemia, there is no known way to prevent it other than to diagnose and treat leukemia early.

Cutaneous leukemia is a relatively rare complication of leukemia. Cancerous white blood cells travel from the blood to the skin and cause lesions.

Doctors usually diagnose cutaneous leukemia in people who already have leukemia. This may mean that the cancer has spread outside the blood and bone marrow. Treatment focuses on treating the underlying leukemia with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy.

If you have leukemia and notice any changes in your skin, talk to your doctor right away.