Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Overview 

Cancers are of different forms, each affecting different body parts. One such cancer is acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). It is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow – spongy tissue that produces blood cells and is inside your bones. It primarily affects a group of myeloid cells, typically responsible for developing various types of mature blood cells, like red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. If you are diagnosed with AML, your white blood cells rapidly multiply to an abnormal level.

The blog takes you through the definition of acute myelogenous leukemia, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

What is Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)? 

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a blood and bone marrow malignancy. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside bones responsible for producing blood cells. 

The word ‘acute’ in acute myelogenous leukemia indicates the ability of the illness to develop quickly. This condition affects Myeloid cells, a subset of white blood cells that typically mature into other forms of blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. 

What are the Symptoms of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)? 

Acute myelogenous leukemia’s general signs and symptoms can resemble those of the flu or other common illnesses in its early stages. 

Some of the symptoms are: 

  • fever  
  • bone aches 
  • fatigue and lethargy 
  • breathing difficulty 
  • pale skin  
  • frequently illness and infection
  • getting bruised easily
  • unusual bleeding in the gum or nose
  • inflammation of the gums
  • increased sweating, particularly at night
  • unexplained and unintentional weight loss
  • women may experience heavier periods than usual

What are the Causes of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)? 

Acute myelogenous leukemia develops when a bone marrow cell undergoes alterations (mutations) in its DNA or genetic makeup. This DNA contains the instructions that inform a cell what to do. It tells the cell to develop at a specific rate and to die at a specific time. The mutations in acute myelogenous leukemia instruct the bone marrow cell to keep multiplying and developing. The production of blood cells spirals out of control, thus producing immature white blood cells known as myeloblasts. These aberrant cells can accumulate and suffocate healthy cells since they cannot operate normally.  

What are the Risk Factors that May Lead to Acute Myelogenous Leukemia? 

Some risk factors of Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) include the following: 

  1. Aging: Age increases the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia. People 65 and older are more susceptible to acute myelogenous leukemia. 
  2. Radioactive contamination: AML development is more likely in those exposed to extremely high doses of radiation, such as those who have survived nuclear reactor accidents. 
  3. Sex: Acute myelogenous leukemia is more common in men than in women. 
  4. Prior cancer therapy: AML risks are higher in people who have undergone specific forms of radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment. 
  5. Blood disorders: AML is more likely to develop in people who have previously experienced a blood condition, such as myelodysplasia, myelofibrosis, polycythemia vera, or thrombocythemia. 
  6. Genetic conditions: AML risk is enhanced by several genetic disorders, including Down syndrome
  7. Smoking increases the chance of getting this cancer since cigarette smoke contains harmful elements.  
  8. Exposure to some chemicals, like benzene, is linked to a greater risk of AML.

People who have never been exposed to these risk factors can also  get this condition.  

What are the Diagnostic Measures for Acute Myelogenous Leukemia? 

In the event that you exhibit acute myelogenous leukemia symptoms or signs, your doctor may advise that you undergo diagnostic procedures such as: 

  1. A blood test: Acute myelogenous leukemia patients typically have excess white blood cells and a deficiency in red blood cells and platelets. However, in some cases, the patients may also have a deficiency of white blood cells. Another sign of acute myelogenous leukemia is the presence of blast cells in the blood that are typically located in the bone marrow. 
  2. A bone marrow test: Leukemia can be detected by a blood test, but a bone marrow examination is typically required to confirm the diagnosis. 
  3. A spinal puncture (spinal tap): The fluid surrounding your spinal cord may occasionally need to be sampled to look for leukemia cells. Your doctor can remove this fluid by inserting a tiny needle into the spinal canal in your lower back. 
  4. In a laboratory, doctors test your leukemia cells to better understand which gene mutations are present .This information may guide your prognosis and treatment options. 

What are the treatment options for Acute Myelogenous Leukemia? 

Your doctor decides on your treatment options and prognosis based on your AML subtype and other data. Unlike other cancers, Acute myelogenous leukemia does not have stages, which utilize numbers to describe your prognosis and whether your illness has spread. 

 Instead, the following factors determine the severity of the disease:

  1. AML subtype 
  2. Your age 
  3. Your general well-being 

Based on the abovementioned factors, your doctor decides on your treatment plan. The two common stages of treatment are: 

  1. Remission-induction therapy: The initial stage of treatment is to eradicate leukemia cells from your blood and bone marrow. However, remission-induction therapy frequently leaves some leukemia cells behind, necessitating additional treatment to stop the illness from returning. 
  2. Consolidating therapy: This stage of treatment, also known as post-remission therapy or maintenance therapy, aims to eradicate any remaining leukemia cells. It is thought to be essential for lowering the chance of recurrence. 

In these stages, therapies like the following are used. 

  1. Chemotherapy: Although it can also be used for consolidation therapy, chemotherapy is the most common type of remission-induction therapy. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells in your body by using chemicals. 
  2. Targeted treatment: Targeted medication therapies focus on particular defects in cancer cells. This therapy can kill cancer cells by blocking these aberrations. Your leukemia cells are examined to determine whether targeted therapy may benefit you. During induction and consolidation stages, targeted therapy may be used alone or with chemotherapy. 
  3. Transplant of bone marrow: Consolidation therapy could involve a bone marrow transplant, commonly known as a stem cell transplant. In this process, the diseased bone marrow is replaced with leukemia-free stem cells that grow into the healthy bone marrow. 

You get high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy before a bone marrow transplant to kill your leukemia-producing bone marrow. After which, your healthcare provider administers stem cell injections from a compatible donor to you (allogeneic transplant). If you were previously in remission and had your healthy stem cells taken and saved for a future transplant, you could also receive  your own   stem cells during the transplant (autologous transplant). 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How to identify AML subtypes? 

When your doctor finds out that you have AML, they will prescribe more tests to identify the extent of the malignancy and place it into a more precise subtype of AML. 

Does alternative medicine cure AML? 

Alternative medicine, like yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, and others, may not cure AML but may help you manage the symptoms.  

What are the other names of AML?

Acute Myelogenous leukemia is also called acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, acute nonlymphocytic leukemia and acute granulocytic leukemia.