Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Cause, Symptom, Diagnosis and Treatment

Myeloid leukemia, as its name implies, is a kind of leukemia. The leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is a malignant cancer of the blood that affects both children and adults.

Leukemia is the name of a broad category of conditions that can be further divided into myeloid leukemia and lymphoid leukemia. There are also other names for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), such as acute myelogenous leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, acute non-lymphoid leukemia, and acute myelocytic leukemia.

A bit of basic information is needed for you to understand leukemia better.

As we know, the blood that runs in our body is produced by the bone marrow. The bone marrow is something like a factory that produces products (blood cells) and send them to the blood vessels. When something goes abnormal during the production, the products will be unable to function normally and moreover, these abnormal cells would take over the bone marrow and self-reproduce to large amounts. The myeloid leukemia is a condition where the cells that would finally turn into white blood cells mutate and proliferate massively.

Cause

Doctors and scientists do not know what causes acute myeloid leukemia exactly. Genetic mutations are frequently found in the leukemia cells, but doctors do not know what causes these genetic mutations. It seems that the following factors may make you more likely to get leukemia:

  • Contact with certain toxic chemicals, such as benzene and pesticides
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation
  • Having siblings or parents of acute leukemia

Symptom

Acute myeloid leukemia most frequently occurs in adolescents and adults, while lymphoid leukemia occurs frequently in children. The onset is acute, ranging from weeks to a few months. If patients do not get treatment, mostly they will die within several months after diagnosis.

The symptoms of acute myeloid are heterogeneous and non-specific. Some common symptoms include:

  • Fever, which can be very high in some cases
  • Easy bruising, such as gum bleeding when brushing your teeth
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Enlarged liver and spleen, causing abdominal discomfort
  • Cough
  • General sickness, such as loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Headaches

Diagnosis

Since the symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia are non-specific, doctors always rely on ancillary tests to help diagnose:

Complete blood count: This test measures how many white blood cells you have in your vessels. With acute myeloid leukemia, your white blood cell counts and/or neutrophil counts would be elevated drastically.

Bone marrow test: This is a very important test by directly examining your bone marrow. In general, a needle is inserted to your hip bones to sample the bone marrow, which will be examined by a specialist to look for signs of leukemia.

Genetic tests: This is frequently done using your bone marrow sample too. The genetic tests would not only further confirm the diagnosis of leukemia, but also help to predict your prognosis.

Treatment

Treatment for acute myeloid leukemia are divided into 2 phases. The aim of the 1st phase is remission induction and the aim of the 2nd phase is to maintain this remission state.

In the 1st phase, your doctors would use chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. There are a lot of chemotherapy regimens for acute myeloid leukemia, however, the most commonly used medications are daunorubicin/idarubicin and cytarabine. For a specific acute myeloid leukemia (acute promyelocytic leukemia), drugs of arsenic trioxide and all-trans retinoic acid are frequently used.

Once you achieve complete remission, your doctors will proceed with the following treatment, based on your overall health status and genetic test results:

  • Continuing more cycles of chemotherapy;
  • Stem cell transplant, which uses bone marrow stem cells from a healthy individual to re-constitute your bone marrow.
* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.