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What is Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), one of the four major types of leukemia, is a malignant cancer caused by damage to the DNA of developing cells in the bone marrow. The disease is marked by: 1) the overabundant, uncontrolled growth of dysfunctional cells in the bone marrow and 2)the deficiency of red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells, caused by ceased production of normal bone marrow cells.

The decrease in healthy red blood cells often also causes anemia in many patients, while the drop in functional white blood cells and platelets impairs the body's ability to fight infection.

Causes

AML is an acquired disease, not a genetic or contagious one. Although not all of its causes not known the following are believed to cause AML:

  • Exposure to high levels of radiation

  • Benzene - if you have transported benzene, gasoline, or worked in the petrolium or petro-chemical industries.

  • Chemotherapy (in cases wherein patients are battling other cancers, such as ovarian cancer)

People with Down Syndrome, Fanconi anemia, and other genetic disorders face a higher risk of developing this type of leukemia, which accounts for approximately 15 percent of all childhood leukemia cases.

Treatments

For optimal results, it is recommended that those diagnosed with AML seek treatment as soon after diagnosis as possible. Because there is no cure for leukemia or any other type of cancer, emphasis is instead placed on bringing about remission, in which there is no evidence of cell overproduction in the marrow.

Patients are usually initially treated with chemotherapy, an individualized combination and sequence of at least two drugs. Chemotherapy essentially poisons cancerous cells, but it often damages healthy cells in the process. As a result, many patients find that they are further weakened, lose their hair, and are much more susceptible to infection.

In some cases, radiation therapy is used to kill localized leukemia cells. On other occasions, a spinal tap is performed; spinal fluid is removed through a needle and replaced with a fluid containing cancer-fighting drugs.

Resource Links for Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia (PDQ): Treatment   (National Cancer Institute)

Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia / Other Myeloid Malignancies (PDQ): Treatment   (National Cancer Institute)

Gleevec Approved for First Line Treatment of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)   (Food and Drug Administration)

Bone Marrow Diseases (National Library of Medicine)