Acute myeloid leukemia: Causes, treatment, and outlook

Acute myeloid leukemia is a type of malignant blood cell cancer that can affect both children and adults. It develops fast and it can have serious consequences.

It is also known as acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, or acute nonlymphocytic leukemia (ANLL).

In 2017, 21,380 new cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are expected to be diagnosed in the United States.

It generally affects patients over the age of 50 years and is more common in males than females.

With treatment, around 60 to 70 percent of adults with AML can experience complete remission.

What is acute myeloid leukemia?

[AML cells]
AML is a blood cancer that develops rapidly.

Acute leukemia starts suddenly, while chronic leukemia lasts a long time and progresses gradually.

AML is a fast-growing malignant disease in which too many nonfunctioning immature white blood cells are found in the blood and bone marrow.

Acute leukemia crowds out the useful cells more quickly than chronic leukemia.

Signs and symptoms generally develop gradually and then escalate in severity as the immature cells, also known as blast cells, take up more and more space in the blood.

[radiation exposure increases the risk of AML]
Radiation exposure increases the risk of AML.

However, the main known causes of acute leukemia are exposure to high levels of radiation, benzene, or both.

If a nuclear industry accident exposes people to radiation, they will have a higher risk of developing AML.

However, radiation does not just come from nuclear accidents. Pilots with more than 5,000 hours of flight time, for example, can receive enough radiation to increase their risk of AML, as they are closer to the sun.

Exposure to benzene is linked to industrial solvents. Benzene is a major part of crude oil and gasoline.

Smoking, certain genetic conditions like Fanconi anemia, and receiving some chemotherapy drugs for the treatment of other cancers can lead to the development of AML.

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Diagnosis

AML can be diagnosed in a number of ways. If signs appear that may be linked with leukemia, it is important to seek a physician’s advice.

A doctor will look at the patient’s:

eyes

mouth

skin

lymph nodes

liver

spleen

nervous system

They will also ask about the patient’s family history and medical history to see if any of the major risk factors are present.

If the doctor suspects leukemia, there will be blood and bone marrow tests.

Bone marrow samples are collected in two ways.

Bone marrow aspiration: liquid bone marrow fluid is extracted by needle

Biopsy: the physician removes a small piece of bone and marrow with a larger needle

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