What is AML?

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer. There are three main types of cells in the blood: white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. White blood cells are responsible for fighting infections and other diseases.

How does AML develop?

AML is a condition where the bone marrow makes large numbers of immature white blood cell known as myeloid cells. Myeloid leukemia occurs when these white cells multiply uncontrollably in the marrow, crowding out other normal cells and leading to impaired function of the blood building system.

The sudden rate at which the leukemic cells replace the normal blood and bone marrow cells is the parameter that qualifies the form of the disease as acute. Eventually the regular production of blood cells is destroyed and the risk of infection or bleeding increases significantly.

What are the causes and risk factors of AML

Ask your doctor and visit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website (www.lls.org) to find comprehensive disease information about AML.

How is AML treated?

Treatment of AML is usually divided into two phases: 

  • Induction therapy: Initial phase of treatment, designed to remove all detectable leukemia cells and treat the immediate disease.
  • Consolidation therapy: Further treatment to destroy remaining leukemia cells and prevent the recurrence of the disease.

Induction therapy

The elimination of leukemic cells is usually accomplished using chemotherapy. This can be achieved with multiple drugs during a planned sequence of treatments.

The intensity of the treatment depends on several factors, including:

  • Patient's age
  • Disease stage
  • Patient physical condition
  • Existence of other illnesses

If induction therapy is successful, no detectable leukemic cells will remain following this phase of treatment. This state is called a complete remission.

However, induction therapy often does not destroy all of the leukemic cells, leaving a small number to persist. In some cases, often dependent on disease stage or chromosomal abnormalities, the cancer will return within several years. The recurrence of cancer is called relapse

Consolidation therapy

Once the AML patient is in complete remission, further treatment will be given to kill any remaining leukemic cells and prevent relapse

For intermediate or high-risk AML, consolidation therapy options include chemotherapy with or without stem cell transplantation. The choice and intensity of treatment is dependent on the same factors described in the induction therapy section above.

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