Acute myeloid leukemia

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 12, 2022.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. AML is the most common type of acute leukemia.

AML is also known as acute myelogenous leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia or acute nonlymphocytic leukemia. It occurs when the bone marrow beings to make blasts, cells that have not yet completely matured. These blasts normally develop into white blood cells. However, in AML, these cells do not develop and are unable to ward off infections.

In AML, the bone marrow may also make abnormal red blood cells and platelets. The number of these abnormal cells increases rapidly, and the abnormal (leukemia) cells begin to crowd out the normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets that the body needs.

One of the main things that differentiates AML from the other main forms of leukemia is that it has eight different subtypes, which are based on the cell that the leukemia developed from. The types of acute myelogenous leukemia include:

  • Myeloblastic (M0) - on special analysis
  • Myeloblastic (M1) - without maturation
  • Myeloblastic (M2) - with maturation
  • Promyeloctic (M3)
  • Myelomonocytic (M4)
  • Monocytic (M5)
  • Erythroleukemia (M6)
  • Megakaryocytic (M7)

Acute myeloid leukemia symptoms

Because AML makes abnormal cells that crowd out normal healthy cells, many of its symptoms are a result of the low number of healthy blood cells in the body. Some AML symptoms include:

  • Frequent infections and fever: The job of white blood cells is to ward off infections and protect our bodies from foreign germs and bacteria. Because AML reduces the number of healthy white blood cells, the body is not as capable of defending against foreign germs and bacteria. Therefore, patients with AML may have an increased rate of infections and fevers.
  • Anemia: Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. The low level of healthy blood cells caused by AML may lead to feeling tired and/or weak, having shortness of breath and looking pale.
  • Easy bleeding or bruising: Platelets control bleeding. Having low levels in the blood can lead to easy bleeding or bruising. This can result in the slow healing of cuts, prolonged bleeding from minor cuts and bruises with no clear cause. It can also lead to petechiae, tiny red spots under the skin.
  • Joint and bone pain: The increased number of leukemia cells can cause pain in bones, joints or both.

Acute myeloid leukemia treatment options

Treatment for AML may include chemotherapyradiation therapystem cell transplant and/or targeted therapy. Your integrated team of leukemia experts will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your unique diagnosis and needs.

A common chemotherapy treatment for AML begins with induction chemotherapy, in which a combination of drugs is used to destroy as many leukemia cells as possible and bring blood counts to normal. This is followed by consolidation chemotherapy, to destroy any remaining leukemia cells that cannot be seen in the blood or bone marrow.

Next topic: What is chronic lymphocytic leukemia?

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