Acute Myeloid Leukemia

What is Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

Acute myeloid leukemia is a specific type of leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This type of leukemia affects the cells that turn into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes that are affected by other types of leukemia).

The word acute indicates that this type of cancer develops rapidly and spreads quickly as well, coming on all of a sudden. The term myeloid refers to the fact that this type of leukemia affects cells in the bone marrow and blood known as myeloblasts. While acute myeloid leukemia is known to affect mainly white blood cells, it can also affect red blood cells as well as platelets.

Type of leukemia

Acute myeloid leukemia is the type of leukemia that most commonly affects adults and is the second most common form of leukemia for children. Essentially, what happens with acute myeloid leukemia is that the bone marrow starts producing a large number of abnormal cell and myeloblasts. These cells crowd out health cells in the blood causing innumerable health problems and severely weakening a person’s immune system.

Going through chemotherapy in the past, exposure to radiation, and smoking can increase a person’s risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia.


What are the Symptoms of Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

There are numerous symptoms that can be associated with acute myeloid leukemia.

Common symptoms

Fatigue and weakness are common signs of this type of cancer. This is because the blood is unable to transport enough oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Easy bruising and abnormal bleeding like frequent nosebleeds and excessive bleeding from the gums can also be symptoms of AML. Other symptoms include fevers, aches and pains (especially in the bones), shortness of breath, loss of appetite, pale skin, and inexplicable weight loss.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Causes

The cause of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is undetermined. However, researchers have shown certain risk factors that contribute to the occurrence of the disease.

Here are a few causes
  • Men have a higher risk of developing AML than women. Like most forms of leukemia, AML is more likely to develop as the patient ages.
  • While family history plays no role in the risk of developing leukemia, patients with an identical twin who contracted AML are at increased risk of the illness.
  • Some genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, may contribute to the risk of leukemia.
  • Certain blood disorders such as myelodysplastic syndrome increase the risk of developing AML.
  • Smoking does not cause leukemia. Smokers, however, bear an increased chance of developing AML.
  • Exposure to extreme forms of radiation can cause AML. Examples include the high-energy radiation of an atomic bomb explosion and prolonged, intense exposure to the low-energy radiation emitted by electromagnetic fields, such as power lines.
  • Continued exposure to certain pesticides or chemicals, such as benzene, boost the risk for leukemia.
  • If you have undergone earlier cancer treatment, especially for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, some forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy also increase the risk of developing leukemia.

How is Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treated?

There is a Primary treatment of acute myeloid leukemia and there are other treatments.

Primary treatment

The primary treatment for acute myeloid leukemia is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for AML is intensive and has a major impact on not only the cancerous cells in the blood but also any remaining healthy cells in the blood. This leaves the patient’s immune system severely compromised. As such, chemotherapy is usually administered while the person is hospitalized and kept away from possible infections as much as possible.

Other treatments

Other treatments for AML include blood transfusions to help with symptoms and get healthy blood into the person’s system.

Bone marrow (stem cell) transplants are also a possible treatment option. The idea behind this treatment is to replace the stem cells that are producing abnormal cells with ones that produce healthy blood cells.

Radiation therapy may also be used in conjunction with chemotherapy or other treatments to further help eradicate cancer cells, particularly if the cancer has spread beyond the blood.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Prevention

In the majority of cases, the cause of AML is uncertain. Most of the risk factors associated with AML cannot be changed (genetic risk or previous treatment, for example). As a result, no clear prevention methods have been discovered. However, researchers note that certain behaviors or exposures put you at higher risk for any type of cancer, including AML.

Prevention options you can control include:
  • Stop smoking or do not start. Although no direct link has been shown between smoking and AML, smokers are more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers, especially after age 60.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.

Early treatment is crucial, so be sure to report any leukemia symptoms to your doctor right away.