Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), also known as acute myelogenous leukemia, is named for how acutely and rapidly the disease can progress. This fact can be incredibly stressful for patients who may be at risk, as it makes early detection all the more crucial.
AML is a cancer of the blood, one that starts in the bone marrow but can quickly move into the blood and potentially spread to body parts like the lymph nodes, spleen, and testicles.¹ Though patients may be aware of what leukemia is and its dangers, they may not know enough to properly understand how to detect it, whether they may be at risk, and when to see a health care professional.
Be sure to let your patients know the following:
Acute Myeloid Leukemia Symptoms
Symptoms of AML may vary in severity. They can seem nondescript, or stem from conditions brought on by AML, like anemia.² These symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
Patients with AML-induced anemia may experience symptoms such as:
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent bleeding of the nose and gums
- Easy and/or unexplained bruising
In addition, patients with AML may experience bone or joint pain if leukemia cells have built up in those areas.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia Risk Factors
While understanding possible risk factors for AML is important, patients with AML often do not present with them before developing leukemia. These risk factors are no guarantee of AML.³
Factors that could potentially increase the risk of AML include:
- Older age, particularly age 65 or older
- Genetic disorders, including Down syndrome
- Exposure to radiation, including previous cancer treatment
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- A history of myelofibrosis, myelodysplasia, polycythemia vera, or other blood disorders
- A history of smoking
In addition, men are seen as more likely than women to develop AML.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia Detection and Diagnosis
The American Cancer Society claims that screening tests have yet to show an ability to detect AML early, and recommend reporting possible AML symptoms as soon as possible.⁴
If a physician suspects that a patient may have AML, they may order tests. Blood tests are common, as seeing an unusual ratio of each type of blood cell could be an indicator of leukemia. If a blood test finds something suspicious, a health care professional will often order a bone marrow test to confirm whether or not it is AML.⁵ In some cases, a spinal tap may be needed, and some physicians may get a patients’ leukemia cells tested, as understanding specific genetic mutations can help determine the treatment.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment
The severity of, and subsequently the treatment for a patient’s AML, is determined by a number of factors including their age and the genetic subtype of their leukemia.⁵ Chemotherapy is often recommended to kill the cancer cells in a patient’s blood and bone marrow in an attempt to induce remission. Some patients may need targeted therapy; drugs that target the particular abnormalities of cancer cells. These can be used as a standalone treatment, or can be used in tandem with chemotherapy as part of an all-encompassing treatment; even after chemotherapy wipes out a majority of cancer cells and induces remission, further therapy is needed to kill the remaining cells.
In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may be needed after chemotherapy to try and replace the bone marrow that was creating cancer cells with stem cells.
1. What is acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia/about/what-is-aml.html. Updated August 21, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2021.
2. Signs and symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html. Updated August 21, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2021.
2. Acute myelogenous leukemia – symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-myelogenous-leukemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20369109. Accessed August 4, 2021.
4. Can acute myeloid leukemia (AML) be found early? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html. Updated August 21, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2021.
5. Acute myelogenous leukemia – diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-myelogenous-leukemia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20369115. Accessed August 4, 2021.