In Brief

Man's 'Bug Bite' Was Really a Sign of Leukemia

A chemotherapy IV infusion
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When a man in Ohio developed a swollen lump on his foot, he thought it was just a particularly painful and stubborn bug bite. So he was stunned to find out that it was actually a sign of leukemia, according to news reports.

The man, 46-year-old Mike Balla, first noticed the lump on his foot last August, according to NBC Today. He thought it was a mosquito or spider bite, but soon, it got bigger and more uncomfortable. After going to the doctor, he was told the lump was likely an infected bug bite, and treated with antibiotics.

But the treatment didn't seem to work, so he was given another antibiotic. When that failed as well, Balla ended up in the emergency room (ER).

Related: 5 Weird Effects of Bug Bites

That's when an ER doctor came into his room and told him they were waiting for a consult from an oncologist. Balla at first assumed they had him mixed up with another patient.

"I said, 'I think you have the wrong person. I have a bite on my foot that's infected,'" Balla told Today.

But doctors told him that blood tests revealed he had acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow cells. It is a rapidly progressing cancer that requires immediate treatment.

Symptoms can include fatigue, bone pain, easy bruising and bleeding and an increased susceptibility to infections, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It is rare for leukemia to look like a bug bite, Dr. Alice Mims, a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center who wasn't involved with Balla's case, told Prevention magazine. But sometimes, cancer cells can get into the skin and result in something that looks like a bug bite, Prevention reported.

Balla was treated with chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He later experienced a cancer relapse, but is now in remission again, according to a statement from the Cleveland Clinic, where Balla was treated.

Balla now advises men not to put off going to the doctor if they think something might be wrong. "The hour it takes to go get a checkup could help prevent months of health problems," he said in the statement. "You may think you don’t have time for that. But it’s not true. If you don’t go to the doctor, you may have a much bigger problem."

Originally published on Live Science. 

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.