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About Acute Myeloid Leukemia

  • David Steensma, MD, with a patient


    Adult Leukemia Program team member David Steensma, MD, with patient

  • What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

    Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a blood and bone marrow cancer in which the bone marrow makes immature white blood cells called myeloblasts or "blasts." This kind of cancer is called "acute" rather than "chronic" because it tends to be a fast-growing type of leukemia.

    Incidence

    AML can be diagnosed at any age, but affects mostly older adults (the median age at diagnosis is 65 years). Our program offers tailored approaches for treating older adults through our specialized Older Adult Hematologic Malignancy Program.

    Risk Factors

    Some patients with AML have no known risk factors for developing the disease. Recognized risk factors for AML include:

    • Being male
    • Being older
    • Having a history of smoking
    • Having had treatment with certain types of chemotherapy or with radiation therapy in the past
    • Having a history of a blood disorder, such as myelodysplastic syndrome, myeloproliferative neoplasm, or aplastic anemia
    • Having an inborn condition such as Down syndrome, Fanconi anemia, or dyskeratosis congenita (DKC)
    • Heavy exposure to certain hazardous chemicals, such as benzene

    Symptoms and Signs

    • Fever
    • Unexplained weight or appetite loss
    • Weakness or fatigue
    • Pain or fullness below the ribs on the left side
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty exercising
    • Easy bruising or bleeding
    • Night sweats
    • Infections

    Growth and Spread

    AML is often a fast-growing disease, so timely and prompt diagnosis and initiation of treatment are important. Even though AML is usually a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, it can sometimes spread to other organs, such as the skin, brain, spinal cord, or spleen.

    Prognosis

    As with any cancer, prognosis (chance of recovery) and long-term survival can vary greatly from patient to patient. The prognosis depends partly on:

    • Your age — younger patients tend to have a better outlook
    • Whether you had chemotherapy in the past to treat a different cancer
    • Whether you have a history of a blood disorder, such as myelodysplastic syndrome or myeloproliferative neoplasm
    • Whether the cancer has spread outside the marrow (extramedullary involvement)
    • Certain molecular mutations or chromosomal changes in your bone marrow