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Cancer Center

Cancer Types - Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

What is acute myelogenous leukemia?

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood in which too many granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced in the bone marrow.

Normally, bone marrow cells mature into several different types of blood cells. Acute myelogenous leukemia affects the young blood cells (called blasts) that develop into a type of white blood cell (called granulocytes). The main function of granulocytes is to destroy bacteria. The blasts, which do not mature and become too numerous, remain in the bone marrow and blood. Acute leukemia can occur over a short period of days to weeks. Chromosome abnormalities (extra chromosomes and structural changes in the chromosome material) are present in the majority of AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) patients.

According to the American Cancer Society, of the 44,270 leukemia cases expected in 2008 about half will be acute. AML will account for 13,290 of the acute cases in 2008.

What are the symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • anemia
  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • fever
  • persistent weakness
  • fatigue
  • aches in bones and joints
  • swollen lymph nodes

The symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is acute myelogenous leukemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for acute myelogenous leukemia may include the following:

  • additional blood tests and other evaluation procedures
  • bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy - a procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.
  • spinal tap/lumbar puncture - a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

Treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia:

Specific treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • monoclonal antibodies (Mylotarg is used in conjunction with a chemotherapy drug) 
  • bone marrow transplantation or peripheral stem cell transplantation

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