Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. With AML, the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells including:
AML begins in immature myeloblasts and progresses very quickly. It may also be the end state of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but it is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Current or past smoking is strongly associated with AML. Risk is compounded by how much you smoked and for how long. AML is more common in men. Other factors that may increase your chances of AML:
AML may cause:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, paying particular attention to swelling of the liver and spleen. The doctor will also look for swelling in lymph nodes in the armpits, groin, or neck. You will likely be referred to an oncologist, a doctor who focuses on treating cancer.
Tests may include the following:
After AML is identified, it can be classified as one of 8 subtypes. These subtypes are based on the type of cell from which leukemia developed. Classification is important. It can help make a prognosis and design a treatment plan.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment of AML usually involves 2 phases:
Treatment options include:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms. This includes pill, injection, and through an IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. While this will focus on cancer cells, some healthy cells are also killed.
Some AML cells may spread to the brain and spinal cord. In this case, intrathecal chemotherapy may be used. Chemotherapy drugs are placed directly into the spinal column.
Radiation therapy involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. For ALL, external radiation therapy therapy is used.
The radiation is directed at the tumor from outside the body. This type of treatment is used for AML that has spread, or may spread, to the brain and spinal cord. It can also be used to treat bone pain that comes from bone affected by the leukemia.
Chemotherapy is followed by a stem cell transplant. Stem cells will replace the blood-forming cells destroyed by cancer treatment. Stem cells are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor. They are then infused into the patient.
These drugs may be used with certain types of leukemia. They can kill leukemia cells, stop them from dividing, or help them mature into white blood cells:
This therapy uses antibodies made in a lab. The antibodies help to identify substances on cancer cells or on normal cells that may help cancer grow. The antibodies attach to these substances. This kills the cancer cells, blocking their growth, or preventing them from spreading.
Biologic therapy uses medications or substances made by the body. The substance is used to increase or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of therapy is also called biological response modifier therapy. It is still being tested in clinical trials.
Treatment usually causes side effects. These may be the result of leukemia and/or therapy. These include:
Anemia may lead to fatigue. If severe, it can complicate respiratory or cardiac disease. Thrombocytopenia may lead to bleeding and bruising. People with decreased numbers of white blood cells are more vulnerable to infection.
Your doctor may prescribe a number of different treatments to decrease these side effects. Drugs are available to increase production of normal blood cells. In addition, when your counts are particularly low, blood transfusions or changes in daily activities may be needed. These steps will reduce the chance of fatigue, bleeding, or infection.
There are no current guidelines to prevent AML because the exact cause is unknown. Smoking is the most common risk factor. Talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.
American Cancer Society
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Provincial Health Services Authority
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia.html. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML. Updated May 15, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2018.
General information about adult acute myeloid leukemia. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/adult-aml-treatment-pdq. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2018.
General information about childhood acute myeloid leukemia and other myeloid malignancies. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/child-aml-treatment-pdq. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2018.
5/12/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML: Davis AS, Viera AJ, Mead MD. Leukemia: an overview for primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(9):731-738.
8/26/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML: Fircanis S, Merriam P, Khan N, Castillo JJ. The relation between cigarette smoking and risk of acute myeloid leukemia: an updated meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Am J Hematol. 2014;89(8):E125-E132.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 12/20/2014