What is acute myelogenous leukemia?
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
The word “acute” in acute myelogenous leukemia denotes the disease’s rapid progression. It’s called myelogenous leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells, which normally develop into the various types of mature blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Acute myelogenous leukemia is also known as acute myeloid leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
How common is acute myelogenous leukemia?
This acute myelogenous leukemia is extremely common. It commonly affects more females than males. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia?
The common symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia are:
- Bone pain
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Frequent infections
- Easy bruising
- Unusual bleeding, such as frequent nosebleeds and bleeding from the gums
General signs and symptoms of the early stages of acute myelogenous leukemia may mimic those of the flu or other common diseases. Signs and symptoms may vary based on the type of blood cell affected.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes acute myelogenous leukemia?
Acute myelogenous leukemia is caused by damage to the DNA of developing cells in your bone marrow. When this happens, blood cell production goes wrong. The bone marrow produces immature cells that develop into leukemic white blood cells called myeloblasts. These abnormal cells are unable to function properly, and they can build up and crowd out healthy cells.
In most cases, it’s not clear what causes the DNA mutations that lead to leukemia. Radiation, exposure to certain chemicals and some chemotherapy drugs are known risk factors for acute myelogenous leukemia.
What increases my risk for acute myelogenous leukemia?
There are many risk factors for acute myelogenous leukemia, such as:
- Increasing age. The risk of acute myelogenous leukemia increases with age. Acute myelogenous leukemia is most common in adults age 65 and older.
- Your sex. Men are more likely to develop acute myelogenous leukemia than are women.
- Previous cancer treatment. People who’ve had certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may have a greater risk of developing AML.
- Exposure to radiation. People exposed to very high levels of radiation, such as survivors of a nuclear reactor accident, have an increased risk of developing AML.
- Dangerous chemical exposure. Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, is linked to greater risk of AML.
- AML is linked to cigarette smoke, which contains benzene and other known cancer-causing chemicals.
- Other blood disorders. People who’ve had another blood disorder, such as myelodysplasia, polycythemia vera or thrombocythemia, are at greater risk of developing AML.
- Genetic disorders. Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of AML.
Many people with AML have no known risk factors, and many people who have risk factors never develop the cancer.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is acute myelogenous leukemia diagnosed?
Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
- The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
- The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
- The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
Peripheral blood smear: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked for blast cells, the number and kinds of white blood cells, the number of platelets, and changes in the shape of blood cells.
Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
Cytogenetic analysis: A laboratory test in which the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes. Other tests, such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), may also be done to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.
Immunophenotyping: A process used to identify cells, based on the types of antigens or markers on the surface of the cell. This process is used to diagnose the subtype of AML by comparing the cancer cells to normal cells of the immune system. For example, a cytochemistry study may test the cells in a sample of tissue using chemicals (dyes) to look for certain changes in the sample. A chemical may cause a color change in one type of leukemia cell but not in another type of leukemia cell.
Reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction test (RT–PCR): A laboratory test in which cells in a sample of tissue are studied using chemicals to look for certain changes in the structure or function of genes. This test is used to diagnose certain types of AML including acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).
How is acute myelogenous leukemia treated?
Treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia depends on several factors, including the subtype of the disease, your age, your overall health and your preferences.
In general, treatment falls into two phases:
- Remission induction therapy. The purpose of the first phase of treatment is to kill the leukemia cells in your blood and bone marrow. However, remission induction usually doesn’t wipe out all of the leukemia cells, so you need further treatment to prevent the disease from returning.
- Consolidation therapy. Also called post-remission therapy, maintenance therapy or intensification, this phase of treatment is aimed at destroying the remaining leukemia cells. It’s considered crucial to decreasing the risk of relapse.
Therapies used in these phases include:
- Chemotherapy is the major form of remission induction therapy, though it can also be used for consolidation therapy. Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells in your body. People with AML generally stay in the hospital during chemotherapy treatments because the drugs destroy many normal blood cells in the process of killing leukemia cells. If the first cycle of chemotherapy doesn’t cause remission, it can be repeated.
- Other drug therapy. Arsenic trioxide (Trisenox) and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) are anti-cancer drugs that can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy for remission induction of a certain subtype of AML called promyelocytic leukemia. These drugs cause leukemia cells with a specific gene mutation to mature and die, or to stop dividing.
- Stem cell transplant. A stem cell transplant, also called a bone marrow transplant, may be used for consolidation therapy. A stem cell transplant helps re-establish healthy stem cells by replacing unhealthy bone marrow with leukemia-free stem cells that will regenerate healthy bone marrow. Prior to a stem cell transplant, you receive very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy your leukemia-producing bone marrow. Then you receive infusions of stem cells from a compatible donor (allogeneic transplant). You can also receive your own stem cells (autologous transplant) if you were previously in remission and had your healthy stem cells removed and stored for a future transplant.
- Clinical trials. Some people with leukemia choose to enroll in clinical trials to try experimental treatments or new combinations of known therapies.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage acute myelogenous leukemia ?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with acute myelogenous leukemia :
Learn enough to make decisions about your care. The term “leukemia” can be confusing because it refers to a group of cancers that aren’t all that similar except for the fact that they affect the bone marrow and blood. You can waste a lot of time researching information that doesn’t apply to your kind of leukemia. To avoid that, ask your doctor to write down as much information about your specific disease as possible. Then narrow your search for information accordingly.
Write down questions for your doctor before each appointment, and look for information in your local library and on the Internet.
Lean on family and friends. It can be difficult to talk about your diagnosis, and you’ll likely get a range of reactions when you share the news. But talking about your diagnosis can be helpful. So can the outpouring of practical help that often results.
Take care of yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the tests, treatments and procedures of therapy. But it’s important to take care of yourself, not just the cancer. Try to make time for yoga, gardening, cooking or other favorite diversions.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 21, 2017 | Last Modified: November 21, 2017
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-myelogenous-leukemia/basics/definition/con-20043431. Accessed November 21, 2017.
Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/adult-aml-treatment-pdq. Accessed November 21, 2017.