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Introduction to Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.

– The word “acute” in acute myelogenous leukemia denotes the disease’s rapid progression and the fact that it affects immature blood cells, rather than mature ones.
– It’s called myelogenous leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells, which normally develop into the various types of mature blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Causes and Risk factors of AML

– Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) may occur at any age, but it primarily affects adults and children younger than one year old.
– Bone marrow failure occurs as malignant cells replace normal bone marrow.
– Patients with AML are susceptible to bleeding and infection as the normal blood cells lose their ability to fight microorganisms and decrease in number.
– Radiation, some toxins such as benzene, and some chemotherapy drugs are thought to cause some kinds of leukemia, including AML.
– Genetic abnormalities may also play a role in the development of this condition.
– Immuno-suppression following organ transplantation.
– Blood disorders.

Symptoms of AML

– Abnormal menstrual periods.
– Bleeding from the nose and gums.
– Bruising.
– Bone pain or tenderness.
– Fatigue.
– Fever.
– Paleness.
– Shortness of breath (gets worse with exercise).
– Skin rash or lesion.
– Swollen gums (rare).
– Weight loss.

Diagnosis of AML

AML is diagnosed when blood and bone marrow samples show a large number of leukemia cells. AML has eight subtypes, labeled M0 through M7. The subtypes are based on the type of blood cells affected. To find out the sub type and how well the leukemia might respond to treatment, the samples are looked at to find:
– The number of healthy blood cells.
– The size and number of leukemia cells.
– The changes that appear in the chromosomes of the leukemia cells. This is called cytogenetics.
Other genetic abnormalities, e.g., FLT3 mutation, N-RAS.
Doctors also examine the patient to find out if leukemia cells have spread outside the blood and bone marrow.

Treatment options for AML

For a patient with AML, the treatment plan may include:
– Chemotherapy — drugs that destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing.
– A bone marrow or cord blood transplant (described below).
– All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) if he or she has the subtype of AML known as promyelocytic leukemia.
– Other newer treatments that were recently developed or are still being studied in clinical trials — you can ask your doctor whether any newer treatments may be options for you.

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