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Acute myeloid leukaemia

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer. AML usually develops from cells that would turn into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes). Sometimes, though, it can develop from other types of blood-forming cells. Here is basic information about the symptoms, risk factors, survival rates and treatments for AML.

What is acute myeloid leukaemia?

Acute myeloid leukaemia starts in the bone marrow. This is the soft inner parts of bones. With acute types of leukaemia such as AML, bone marrow cells don't mature the way they're supposed to. These immature cells, often called blast cells, just keep building up.

You may hear other names for acute myeloid leukaemia. Doctors may call it:

  • Acute myelocytic leukaemia
  • Acute myelogenous leukaemia
  • Acute granulocytic leukaemia
  • Acute non-lymphocytic leukaemia

Without treatment, AML can quickly be fatal. Because it's "acute" this type of leukaemia can spread quickly to the blood and to other parts of the body such as the:

The prognosis of acute myeloid leukaemia depends on certain factors. And of course prognosis is better if your leukaemia responds well to treatment. Your outlook is better if:

  • You are younger than age 60.
  • You have a lower white blood count when you're diagnosed.
  • You do not have a history of blood disorders or cancers.
  • You do not have certain gene mutations or chromosome changes.

Risk factors for acute myeloid leukaemia

If something increases your risk of getting a disease, it's called a risk factor. Risk factors don't tell the whole story. For example, you can have few risk factors and still get a disease or have several and not get it.

Acute myeloid leukaemia risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene (a solvent used in oil refineries and other industries and present in cigarette smoke), certain cleaning products, detergents and paint strippers
  • Having had chemotherapy or radiotherapy to treat other cancers
  • Exposure to high doses of radiation
  • Certain blood disorders such as myeloproliferative disorders (for example, chronic myelogenous leukaemia)
  • Certain congenital syndromes such as Down’s syndrome
  • Being male

For most people, the cause of AML is unknown. There is not a way to prevent it, but you may reduce your risk by stopping smoking and avoiding exposure to chemicals.

Symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned below, it's important to have a doctor check them out right away to determine the cause.

AML can cause a variety of signs and symptoms. Since the symptoms are often vague, they could be caused by other conditions:

Many symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia are the result of a shortage of normal blood cells. That's because leukaemia cells crowd out normal cells in the bone marrow.

WebMD Medical Reference

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