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Cancer Health Center

Acute Myeloid Leukemia

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Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer. AML usually develops from cells that would turn into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes). Sometimes, though, it can develop from other types of blood-forming cells. Here is basic information about the symptoms, risk factors, survival rates, and treatments for AML.

What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

Acute myeloid leukemia starts in the bone marrow. This is the soft inner parts of bones. With acute types of leukemia such as AML, bone marrow cells don't mature the way they're supposed to. These immature cells, often called blast cells, just keep building up.

You may hear other names for acute myeloid leukemia. Doctors may call it:

  • Acute myelocytic leukemia
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia
  • Acute granulocytic leukemia
  • Acute non-lymphocytic leukemia

Without treatment, AML can quickly be fatal. Because it's "acute," this type of leukemia can spread quickly to the blood and to other parts of the body such as the following organs:

  • Lymph nodes
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Brain and spinal cord
  • Testicles

The expected outcome for acute myeloid leukemia depends on certain factors. And of course prognosis is better if your leukemia responds well to treatment. Your outlook is better if:

  • You are younger than age 60.
  • You do not have a history of blood disorders or cancers.
  • You do not have certain gene mutations or chromosome changes.

 

Risk Factors for Acute Myeloid Leukemia

If something increases your risk of getting a disease, it's called a risk factor. Risk factors don't tell the whole story. For example, you can have few risk factors and still get a disease or have several and not get it.

Acute myeloid leukemia risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene (a solvent used in oil refineries and other industries and present in cigarette smoke), certain cleaning products, detergents, and paint strippers
  • Treatment with certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat other cancers, such as mechlorethamine, procarbazine, and chlorambucil -- especially when combined with radiation therapy
  • Exposure to high doses of radiation
  • Certain blood disorders, such as myeloproliferative disorders (for example, chronic myelogenous leukemia)
  • Certain congenital syndromes, such as Down syndrome
  • Being male

For most people, the cause of AML is unknown. There is not a way to prevent it, but you may reduce your risk by quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to chemicals.

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