Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

What is acute myelogenous leukemia?

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood usually in which too many early forms of white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Normally, bone marrow cells mature into several different types of blood cells. AML usually affects the young blood cells (called blasts) that normally develop into a type of white blood cell (called granulocytes). The main function of granulocytes is to destroy bacteria. The blasts, which do not mature and become too numerous, remain in the bone marrow and blood. Acute leukemia is a fast growing cancer that needs to be treated as soon as possible after it is diagnosed. Chromosome abnormalities (extra chromosomes and structural changes in the chromosome material) are present in the majority of AML patients.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 48,610 leukemia cases are expected in 2013. About 14,590 of these will be AML.

What are the symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of AML. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Bleeding

  • Bruising

  • Fever and recurring infections

  • Persistent weakness

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Aches in bones and joints

  • Swollen gums, lymph nodes, liver, or spleen

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

  • Night sweats

The symptoms of AML may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is acute myelogenous leukemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for AML may include the following:

  • Blood tests and other evaluation procedures

  • Bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy. A procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.

  • Spinal tap/lumbar puncture. A special hollow needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there are leukemia cells in the CSF or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. This test is often not needed for AML. 

Treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia

Specific treatment for AML will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • The subtype of AML

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy or other drug therapies

  • Radiation therapy

  • Bone marrow or peripheral stem cell transplantation