Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
The word "acute" in acute myelogenous leukemia denotes the disease's rapid progression. It's called myelogenous (MI-uh-loj-uh-nus) leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells, which normally develop into the various types of mature blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Acute myelogenous leukemia is also known as acute myeloid leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
General signs and symptoms of the early stages of acute myelogenous leukemia may mimic those of the flu or other common diseases. Signs and symptoms may vary based on the type of blood cell affected. Signs and symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia include:
When to see a doctor
Acute myelogenous leukemia is caused by damage to the DNA of developing cells in your bone marrow. When this happens, blood cell production goes awry. The bone marrow produces immature cells that develop into leukemic white blood cells called myeloblasts. These abnormal cells are unable to function properly, and they can build up and crowd out healthy cells.
It's not clear what causes the DNA mutations that lead to leukemia. Radiation, exposure to certain chemicals and some chemotherapy drugs may play a role.
Factors that may increase your risk of acute myelogenous leukemia include:
Many people with AML have no known risk factors, and many people who have risk factors never develop the cancer.
Preparing for your appointment
If you have signs and symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in blood cell diseases (hematologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For acute myelogenous leukemia, some basic questions to ask include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
If you have signs or symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia, your doctor may recommend you undergo diagnostic tests, including:
If your doctor suspects leukemia, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in cancer (oncologist) or a doctor who specializes in blood and blood-forming tissues (hematologist).
Determining your AML subtype
Your AML subtype helps determine which treatments may be best for you. Doctors are studying how different types of cancer treatment affect people with different AML subtypes.
Bone marrow biopsy
In a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, a doctor or nurse uses a thin needle to remove a small amount of liquid bone marrow, usually from a spot in the back of your hipbone called the posterior iliac ...
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
During a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) procedure, you typically lie on your side with your knees drawn up to your chest. Then a needle is inserted into your spinal canal — in your lower back &...
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia depends on several factors, including the subtype of the disease, your age, your overall health and your preferences. In general, treatment falls into two phases:
Therapies used in these phases include:
No alternative treatments have been found helpful in treating acute myelogenous leukemia. But some complementary and alternative treatments may relieve the signs and symptoms you experience due to cancer or cancer treatment.
Alternative treatments that may help relieve signs and symptoms include:
Coping and support
Acute myelogenous leukemia is an aggressive form of cancer that typically demands quick decision making. That leaves people with a new diagnosis faced with important decisions about a disease they don't yet understand. Here are some tips for coping:
Last Updated: 2010-07-10
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