Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. With AML, the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells including:
Myeloblasts—a type of white blood cell, fight infection
Red blood cells (RBCs)—carry oxygen
Platelets—makes blood clot, stops bleeding in cuts or bruises
AML begins in immature myeloblasts and progresses very quickly. It may also be the end state of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). AML may occur in either children or adults.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body become abnormal. They divide without control or order. Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells and their parent cells. Leukemia cells do not function normally. They cannot do what normal blood cells do. In this case they can not fight infections. This means that the person is more likely to become infected with viruses or bacteria. The cancerous cells also overgrow the bone marrow. This forces other normal components, like platelets out. Platelets are needed to help the blood clot. As a results people with leukemia may bleed more easily.
Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
Loss of appetite
Enlargement of the liver and spleen
Swelling, pain, and bleeding of the gums
Painless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach, or groin
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Swelling of the liver; spleen will be looked for. The doctor will also look for swelling in lymph nodes in the armpits, groin, or neck. You will likely be referred to an oncologist. This is a doctor who focuses on treating cancer.
Tests may include the following:
Blood tests—to check for changes in the number or appearance of different types of blood cells
Bone marrow aspiration—removal of a sample of liquid bone marrow to test for cancer cells
—removal of a sample of liquid bone marrow and a small piece of bone to test for cancer cells
—removal of a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid to check for cancer cells
Routine microscopic exam—examination of a sample of blood, bone marrow, lymph node tissue, or cerebrospinal fluid
Bone, blood marrow, lymph node tissue, or cerebrospinal fluid tests—to distinguish between types of leukemia
Cytogenetic analysis—a test to look for certain changes of the chromosomes (genetic material) of the lymphocytes
Immunophenotyping—examination of the proteins on cell surfaces and the antibodies produced by the body; to distinguish lymphoblastic from myeloid leukemia and determine types of therapy
—x-rays of the chest that may detect signs of lung infection or cancer in the chest
—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
Gallium scan and bone scan—injection of a radioactive chemical into the bloodstream to detect areas of cancer or infection
—a test that uses sound waves to examine masses and organs inside the body
Once AML is identified, it can be classified as one of eight subtypes. These 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 two phases:
Maintenance therapy—to kill any remaining leukemia cells that could grow and cause a relapse
Treatment options include:
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 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.
involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. For 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
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 donor. They are then infused into the patient.
Other Drug Therapy
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 is the use of 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
Patients will suffer side effects not only from the leukemia, but from therapy. These include:
A reduction in red blood cells (anemia)
Reduced numbers of platelets that assist in blood clotting (thrombocytopenia)
Decreased numbers of the white blood cells that fight infection
Anemia may lead to fatigue. If severe enough, it can complicate respiratory or cardiac disease. Thrombocytopenia may lead to bleeding and bruising. Decreased numbers of white blood cells leave a patient 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 step will reduce the chance of fatigue, bleeding, or infection.
Many people who develop AML have no risk factors. There is no way to prevent the condition in most people. However, 20% of cases are related to smoking tobacco. Not smoking is the best known way to prevent AML.
Larson RA, Sievers EL, Stadtmauer EA, et al. Final report of the efficacy and safety of gemtuzumab ozogamicin (Mylotarg) in patients with CD33-positive acute myeloid leukemia in first recurrence.
2005 Oct 1;104(7):1442-52.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a