Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow â the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
The word "acute" in acute myelogenous leukemia denotes the disease's rapid progression. It's called myelogenous (my-uh-LOHJ-uh-nus) leukemia because it affects a group of white blood cells called the myeloid cells, which normally develop into the various types of mature blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Acute myelogenous leukemia is also known as acute myeloid leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
AML care at Mayo Clinic
General signs and symptoms of the early stages of acute myelogenous leukemia may mimic those of the flu or other common diseases. Signs and symptoms may vary based on the type of blood cell affected.
Signs and symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia include:
Make an appointment with a doctor if you develop any signs or symptoms that seem unusual or that worry you.
Acute myelogenous leukemia is caused by damage to the DNA of developing cells in your bone marrow. When this happens, blood cell production goes wrong. The bone marrow produces immature cells that develop into leukemic white blood cells called myeloblasts. These abnormal cells are unable to function properly, and they can build up and crowd out healthy cells.
In most cases, it's not clear what causes the DNA mutations that lead to leukemia. Radiation, exposure to certain chemicals and some chemotherapy drugs are known risk factors for acute myelogenous leukemia.
If you have signs or symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia, your doctor may recommend that you undergo diagnostic tests, including:
Bone marrow test. A blood test can suggest leukemia, but it usually takes a bone marrow test to confirm the diagnosis.
During a bone marrow biopsy, a needle is used to remove a sample of your bone marrow. Usually, the sample is taken from your hipbone (posterior iliac crest). The sample is sent to a laboratory for testing.
If your doctor suspects leukemia, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in blood cancer (hematologist or medical oncologist).
If your doctor determines that you have AML, you may need further tests to determine the extent of the cancer and classify it into a more specific AML subtype.
Your AML subtype is based on how your cells appear when examined under a microscope. Special laboratory testing also may be used to identify the specific characteristics of your cells.
Your AML subtype helps determine which treatments may be best for you. Doctors are studying how different types of cancer treatment affect people with different AML subtypes.
No alternative treatments have been found helpful in treating acute myelogenous leukemia. But some complementary and alternative treatments may relieve the symptoms you experience due to cancer or cancer treatment.
Alternative treatments that may help relieve symptoms include:
Acute myelogenous leukemia is an aggressive form of cancer that typically demands quick decision-making. That leaves people with a new diagnosis faced with important decisions about a disease they may not yet understand. Here are some tips for coping:
Learn enough to make decisions about your care. The term "leukemia" can be confusing because it refers to a group of cancers that aren't all that similar except for the fact that they affect the bone marrow and blood. You can waste a lot of time researching information that doesn't apply to your kind of leukemia. To avoid that, ask your doctor to write down as much information about your specific disease as possible. Then narrow your search for information accordingly.
Write down questions for your doctor before each appointment, and look for information in your local library and on the internet. Good sources include the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Factors that may increase your risk of acute myelogenous leukemia include:
Many people with AML have no known risk factors, and many people who have risk factors never develop the cancer.