Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), also known as Acute Myelogenous Leukemia can be defined as a type of blood cancer, wherein proliferation of cancer cells happen in the bone marrow (the spongy tissue within the bones where blood cells are generated). In the name of the disease, the word ‘Acute’ refers to a chronic form or rapid progression of blood cancer whereas the term ‘myeloid or myelogenous’ symbolizes the myeloid cells which later develop into mature blood cells generating RBC, WBC and platelets. Due to this acute form of leukemia, the bone marrow cells do not grow naturally, but turn into immature cells known as blasts.
AML is also known by other names including acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
Just like any other form of cancer, the exact cause of Acute Myeloid Leukemia is still unknown. But studies suggest that AML usually occurs due to damage or alteration in the DNA of the developing cells of the bone marrow. Owing to the alteration of the genetic material, the bone marrow rapidly produces immature cells that develop into leukemic white blood cells called myeloblasts. These cells are unable to function properly, and they usually grow abnormally and crowd up without dying leading to tumorous structures. AML can also happen due to exposure to certain chemicals or chemotherapy medications.
Certain causative factors that aggravate the risk of AML include:
Age: People ageing 65 years or older are more at risk of Acute myeloid leukemia.
Gender: Men are more likely to get diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia than women.
Chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals, like benzene, pesticides, detergents, or paint strippers, may increase the risk of acute myeloid leukemia.
Radiation: Exposure to high levels of radiation makes a person more prone to AML.
Previous Cancer Treatment: People who've had certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment in the past owing to some other types of cancer are more at risk of developing AML.
Smoking: This unhealthy habit aggravates the chances of getting diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Other Blood Disorders: People who are suffering from or have had other blood disorders like myelofibrosis, myelodysplasia, polycythemia vera or thrombocythemia, in the past are at a higher risk of getting AML.
Genetic Factors: Certain genetic disorders, such as Down’s syndrome, Neurofibromatosis type 1, Trisomy 8, or Li-Fraumeni syndrome increases the risk of Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Although the primary symptoms of Acute Myeloid Leukemia mimic those of a common cold or flu, the most common signs and symptoms include:
- Bone pain
- Swollen gums
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Frequent infections
- Easy bruising
- Frequent nosebleeds and bleeding from the gums
- Swollen liver or spleen
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Tiny red spots on your skin (i.e. petechiae)
Diagnosis And Treatment
If you notice any of the above signs and symptoms staying longer than a normal viral infection, do consult a doctor right away to get diagnosed at the earliest. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup, acknowledges the patient’s past medical history, and conducts some diagnostics. These include:
- Blood Test
- Bone Marrow Test
- Imaging tests like X-ray, CT-scan, MRI-scan and Ultrasounds
- Lumbar Puncture (spinal tap)
- Genomic Testing
Since this type of blood cancer aggravates rapidly, it is necessary to treat it right away. Once the doctor confirms AML, to treat the cancer effectively, he or she does further analysis to determine the extent or spread of the cancer and classify it into a more specific subtype.
The treatment happens in two phases,
Remission induction therapy: This procedure chiefly aims to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow so that one goes into remission, sans any signs or symptoms of the disease.
Consolidation therapy: Also referred to as, Post-remission or Remission continuation therapy, it usually intends to kill any remaining leukemia cells so that the disease doesn’t come back in the near future.
The common therapies conducted in the above phases include:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Drug therapy
- Bone marrow transplant