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Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer that causes the body to make a large number of white blood cells (myelocytes). But these myelocytes, called leukemia cells, cannot fight infection very well.

When leukemia cells build up in the blood and bone marrow, there is less room for healthy blood cells. This can cause infections, anemia, and easy bleeding.

AML usually gets worse quickly. It sometimes is referred to as acute myeloid leukemia, acute myelocytic leukemia, myeloblastic leukemia, granulocytic leukemia, or acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

AML is more common in men than in women. It also affects children. The incidence of AML increases with age.

AML is an acquired rather than inherited disease. Usually the cause of AML is unknown. But it may be caused by high doses of radiation, exposure to the chemical benzene, smoking and other tobacco use, and chemotherapy used to treat other types of cancer. Also, it is more common in children with Down syndrome or other genetic conditions.

Symptoms of AML in adults and children include weakness and fatigue, fever, night sweats, or a pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs. Adults may have unexplained weight loss. Children also may have easy bruising or bleeding, pinpoint spots under the skin from bleeding, painless blue or purple lumps, and bone or joint pain.

AML has several subtypes. A doctor can tell one from another by looking at AML cancer cells. Each subtype has different proteins on the surface of a cell or different chromosome changes in a cell.

Knowing the type or subtype helps doctors plan the most effective treatment.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last Revised December 14, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 14, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.