Overview

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is also known as:

  • Acute granulocytic leukemia
  • Acute myelocytic leukemia
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia
  • Acute non-lymphocytic leukemia

Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of blood and bone marrow cells, which are in the inner part of bones. Cancer disturbs the formation of myeloid cells, a type of white blood cell formed in the marrow. An overgrowth of immature and abnormal cells (known as myeloblasts or blasts) are formed and sent out into the bloodstream.

The problem is that, in this immature or abnormal condition, these cells cannot function properly and, with the massive number of “blasts,” not enough normal, healthy blood cells can be found.

This results in:

  • Anemia: an insufficient number of red blood cells causes a decrease in the amount of oxygen supplied to our tissues. This leads to tiredness, shortness of breath, and looking pale
  • Thrombocytopenia: an insufficient number of platelets, which prevent bleeding and assist in clotting. Having low platelet counts lead to bleeding and bruising easily
  • Neutropenia: an insufficient number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) to fight infection, making people more susceptible to sepsis and diseases

Without treatment, AML can spread quickly and be life-threatening. AML is the second-most common form of leukemia, but it’s rarely seen in patients younger than 40 years old.

AML Subtypes

Unlike other cancers, where staging is based on tumor size and spread, the outlook for AML depends on subtypes, the patient’s age, and the results of other lab tests.

Knowing the subtype is key to selecting the appropriate treating agent and determining a prognosis.

In the FAB system (French-American-British classification), M0 through M7 denote the type of cell the cancer came from and how extensive it has developed.

In the WHO (World Health Organization) system, AML is divided into groups with like outcomes based on certain DNA mutations.

Symptoms

As less healthy blood cells are produced, you may experience:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Night Sweats

 

Symptoms from decreased red blood cells (anemia):

  • Pale skin
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

 

Symptoms from decreased platelets (thrombocytopenia):

  • Bruising easily
  • Bleeding from gums or other body sites
  • Nosebleeds
  • Red spots from bleeding under the skin
  • Sores that don’t heal

 

Symptoms from a decreased number of healthy white cells (neutropenia):

  • Increased incidence of infections
  • Longer recovery time
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Achy, sore muscles


Symptoms from increased leukemia cells in the body:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Blurred vision
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Facial numbness
  • Loss of balance
  • Rashes/spots
  • Swollen, bleeding gums
  • Swollen glands above your collarbone or under the arms, neck, groin


If any of these symptoms occur, seek a consultation and examination by a physician as soon as possible.

Causes and Risks

The cause is usually unknown, but risk factors include:

  • Birth defects like Down Syndrome
  • Polycythemia Vera (a blood disorder)
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to high doses of radiation
  • Exposure to specific chemicals like benzene, cleaning products, paint strippers, and detergents
  • Chemotherapy agents treating other cancers (e.g. chlorambucil, mechlorethaine, procarbazine)

 

AML is higher in males.