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Home > Cancers We Treat > Hematologic Cancer > Leukemia > Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

Definition

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. AML begins in immature myeloblasts and progresses very quickly. It may also be the end state of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). With AML, the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells including:

  • Myeloblasts
  • Red blood cells (RBCs)
  • Platelets

Cancer occurs when cells in the body become abnormal and divide without control or order. Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells and their parent cells. Leukemia cells do not function normally. In this case, they can not fight infections. This means that the person is more likely to become infected with viruses or bacteria. The cancerous cells also overgrow the bone marrow. This forces other normal components, like platelets out. Platelets are needed to help the blood clot. As a result, people with leukemia may bleed more easily.

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Causes

The cause of AML is unknown. However, smoking after age 60 doubles the risk of this condition.

Risk

Risk factors that increase your chance of developing AML include:

  • Sex: male
  • Smoking, especially after age 60
  • Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment
  • Previous treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and certain other cancers
  • Exposure to atomic bomb radiation or a nuclear reactor accident
  • Exposure to the chemical benzene
  • History of a blood disorder, such as myelodysplastic syndrome (precancerous changes in the white cells and precursor cells of the bone marrow)

Symptoms

See a doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Paleness (a sign of anemia)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Bone pain
  • Joint pain
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Swelling, pain, and bleeding of the gums
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach, or groin

Diagnosis

Tests may include the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Your doctor may need to collect fluid samples through:
    • Bone marrow aspiration
    • Bone marrow biopsy
    • Spinal tap
  • Routine microscopic exam
  • Bone, blood marrow, lymph node tissue, or cerebrospinal fluid tests
  • Cytogenetic analysis
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Gallium scan and bone scan
  • Your doctor may need detailed pictures of structures inside your body. These can be made with:
    • Chest x-ray
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • Ultrasound

Treatment

Treatment of AML usually involves two phases:

  • Remission induction therapy—to kill leukemia cells
  • Maintenance therapy—to kill any remaining leukemia cells that could grow and cause a relapse

Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy With Stem Cell Transplant
  • Other Drug Therapy
    • Arsenic trioxide
    • All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA)
  • Biologic Therapy
  • Treatment of Side Effects
    • A reduction in red blood cells (anemia)
    • Reduced numbers of platelets that assist in blood clotting (thrombocytopenia)
    • Decreased numbers of the white blood cells that fight infection

Prevention

Many people who develop AML have no risk factors. There is no way to prevent the condition in most people. However, 20% of cases are related to smoking tobacco. Not smoking is the best known way to prevent AML.

 

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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