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Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) Information

  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), also known as acute myeloid leukemia, is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. The median age of patients with AML is 70; it is rare among children. Myeloid leukemias are characterized as "acute" or "chronic" based on how quickly they progress if not treated. Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is often without symptoms and can remain dormant for years before transforming into a blast crisis, which is markedly similar to AML...
  • Patients with AML usually present with symptoms such as fatigue, bleeding, infection, prompting medical attention. An abnormal blood test reading will then result in further testing in a hospital with a hematologist to determine AML. Most patients with AML will experience a high count of malignant white blood cells, and low counts of red blood cells and platelets.

    A bone marrow aspiration or biopsy is then conducted to identify the type of abnormal blood cells and determine the best treatment plan for the patient. The marrow is taken from the back of the hipbone. Marrow sample aliquots are sent to different test as part of a multidisciplinary process required to establish an accurate diagnosis. Smears are prepared and stained e.g. with Giemsa dye and will give a fair idea of the subtype of leukemia. Labeling live cells with monoclonal antibodies and subsequent analysis in a flow cytometer allows for speedy and accurate diagnosis of AML and for beginning of chemotherapy. Test for molecular changes in turn allow the doctors to establish a prognostic profile of the given patient.

    The presence of Auer rods can distinguish AML from other lymphomas.

    Because acute promyelocytic leukemia has the highest curability and has a unique form of treatment, it is important to establish or exclude the diagnosis of this subtype of leukemia. This is done by a microscopic (so-called FISH) test, which allows the doctors to demonstrate that the AML is caused by an exchange in chromosomal material between chromosomes 15 and 17 (a so-called balanced translocation, or t(15;17)).

    There is ongoing research into the causes of acute myelogenous leukaemia; however, it is not known for sure what causes it. It is thought that in very rare cases, excessive exposure to harmful chemicals such as benzene and radiation such as atomic bomb explosions may trigger abnormal DNA mutations, resulting in leukemia. Patients who have received previous treatment with certain drugs (alkylating agents) are also at higher risk of developing AML.

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