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Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Leukemia affects the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. In a healthy individual the bone marrow makes immature cells (stem cells) that become mature blood cells over time. A blood stem cell can become a myeloid stem cell or lymphoid stem cell. A myeloid stem cell can become a red blood cell that helps carry oxygen to all the organs and tissues of the body, a platelet that helps to form blood clots to stop bleeding, and a white blood cell that help fight infection. 

In AML the myeloid stem cell becomes a type of immature white blood cell called myeloblasts. In AML these myeloblasts are abnormal and do not become healthy white blood cells. As the number of leukemia cells increase in the bone marrow and blood there is less room for white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. When this happens, infection, anemia or easy bleeding may occur.

Signs and symptoms

  • Fever 
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (pinpoint flat dark red spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Painless lumps in neck, underarm, stomach or groin
  • Night sweats
  • Weakness, feeling tired, looking pale
  • Shortness of breath

Tests to help diagnose Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

  • Physical exam and history: the health care provider will examine the body to check general signs of health, assess for any lumps or anything else that seems unusual. They will also get history of past illnesses, health habits and any family history of illness or cancer.
  • Blood tests: Usually done at time of diagnosis to rule out other diseases, and are also done throughout treatment to monitor response and for possible side effects of treatment.
    • CBC (complete blood count) checks the number of red blood cells (oxygen carriers), platelets (cells that help the blood clot properly) and white blood cells (infection fighters) 
    • Blood chemistry studies measures amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. 
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: a procedure where a special needle is inserted into one of the bones (typically the back of the hip bone) and a small amount of marrow (liquid part) is aspirated into a syringe. The biopsy includes taking a small piece of bone and sending it to lab for review. Since the procedure is uncomfortable most patients are given pain medicine or sedated during procedure. Different tests are done on the bone marrow specimen to help identify any chromosomal changes within the leukemia cell, and to check to see if the mutation is in the lymphocytes or myeloid cells by looking for special markers (antigens) on the surface of the cells. 

How is it treated?


Medications that are used to help kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is given in a specific sequenced combination. Chemotherapy is given IV, and through the spinal fluid.  The health care team will explain in detail the treatment plan and possible side effects of the chemotherapy.