Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

What is Acute Myelogenous Leukemia?

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is the most common form of blood and bone marrow cancer in adults. It is twice as likely to strike males and those over 50, but it can strike people of all ages. Although the cause is largely unknown, radiation and chemical exposure are recognized AML risk factors.

Mutated DNA Cells

Mutated DNA cells in the bone marrow affect normal blood cell production. The immature cancerous cells replace the healthy cells in the bone marrow. The cancer cells travel via the bloodstream to vital organs and other areas of the body. They often gather beneath the skin, eyes and gums and form lesions called chloromas. The disease quickly progresses as the leukemia cells divide. It is a life-threatening condition that requires aggressive treatment.

What are the Symptoms of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia?

In the earliest stages, acute myelogenous leukemia may seem like influenza or another common virus. Symptoms depend on the organs that are affected.

Symptoms of AML may include

  • Painful bones
  • Fever
  • Listlessness and fatigue
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Paleness
  • Recurring infections
  • Unusual bruising
  • Bleeding gums
  • Nose bleeds

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Causes

Doctors don’t know every little thing about their patients’ lives, so they can’t always tell the patient what caused their AML. Equally, patients don’t always know what their bones manufacture or why their bones have cancer.

Bone marrow produces blood stem cells or immature cells. These mature over time and become red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells transport blood throughout the body, white blood cells fight off infections and platelets help the blood clot to stop bleeding.

In acute myelogenous leukemia, the white stem cells don’t mature. They fill up the bone marrow so that mature cells, both red and white, and platelets can’t grow and go about their jobs. These are called myeloid blasts. This type of blood cancer, or leukemia, is a very common type of cancer and gets worse quickly if it isn’t caught early. That rapidity makes it acute.

However, there are recognized causes of the disease outside the patient’s experience, such as:

  • Chemicals like benzene (found in everything from plastics to gasoline, from synthetic fibers to detergents, dyes, personal care products and pesticides)
  • High doses of radiation e.g. the levels found in nuclear explosions
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Blood disorders
  • Chemotherapy drugs for another type of cancer
  • The genes governing the making of blood cells mutating

How is Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Treated?

Remission is the goal when treating acute myelogenous leukemia as it is with any form of cancer. However, it is less responsive to treatment than acute lymphocytic leukemia. Infection is common, and blood transfusions can be expected.

Chemotherapy is the first step in remission induction therapy.

Additional treatments may include

  • Anti-cancer drugs
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Post-remission therapy

Treatment plans

Treatment plans depend on many factors including age, physical condition, and the AML subtype determined. Survival with treatment is between 20 and 40% for five years or longer, and without recurring. Those over the age of 60 have the worst prognosis as do those with already weak immune systems. Without treatment, acute myelogenous leukemia is fatal within weeks to months.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Prevention

Presently, there is no way to prevent the disease.

There are, however, ways to change the risk factors of the disease, such as:

  • Stop smoking
  • People working around chemicals should wear full protective gear at all times

Leukemia is considered by doctors as a secondary cancer, developed from being treated for another cancer. The chance of it appearing later on is slight, but doctors are still thinking of ways to keep it from happening.

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Last Reviewed:
September 11, 2016
Last Updated:
June 10, 2018