Acute Myelogenous Leukemia—Adult
(AML—Adult; Acute Myeloid Leukemia—Adult; Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia—Adult; Acute Granulocytic Leukemia—Adult; Acute Nonlymphoblastic Leukemia—Adult)
by Krisha McCoy, MS
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.
Risk Factors TOP
Current or past smoking is strongly associated with AML. Risk is compounded by how much you smoked and for how long. Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is more common in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of AML include:
Acute myelogenous leukemia (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 acute myelogenous leukemia (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 acute myelogenous leukemia (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 via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. While this will focus on cancer cells, some healthy cells are also killed.
Some acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) 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 acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), external radiation 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 with Stem Cell Transplant TOP
Chemotherapy is followed by a transplantation of stem cells (immature blood cells). These will replace 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.
Other Drug Therapy TOP
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:
Monoclonal Antibody Therapy TOP
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 TOP
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 of Side Effects TOP
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.
American Cancer Society
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
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Updated July 30, 2012. Accessed October 30, 2012.
General information about childhood acute myeloid leukemia/other myeloid malignancies. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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Updated August 13, 2012. Accessed October 30, 2012.
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Leukemia–acute myeloid (myelogenous). American Cancer Society website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed October 30, 2012.
5/12/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: 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 Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: 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 December 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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