What is AML?
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a form of cancer affecting white blood cells. It is a rare form of cancer found in over 200,000 people. Myeloid is a term that means ‘from the bone marrow.’ This form of cancer causes the white blood cells formed in the bone marrow to be abnormal. These cells intrude with the regular production of blood cells, and this lowers the production of red and white blood cells and platelet production.
AML is difficult to treat because very few patients are strong enough to endure the hostile chemotherapy necessary to cure AML. While younger patients are more likely to survive treatment, a majority of the affected population is older and generally will not survive treatment.
Certain symptoms are more apt to cause acute myeloid leukemia. People with Down’s Syndrome are ten to eighteen times more likely to develop AML. Treatment for other forms of cancer can cause an increase risk of forming acute myeloid leukemia. Radiation exposure was also a common cause of AML. Many survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings reported a high formation rate of AML. Current studies show frequent exposure to the chemical benzene may increase a risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia.
Early symptoms might not suggest AML. Symptoms may feel flu-like with muscle aches, fatigue, fever, weight loss, and a loss of appetite. Breathing may become restricted as a greater number of abnormal white blood cells hinder the production of normal blood cells. Continual infections and petechiae, small rashes, may form.
Frequently patients are not diagnosed with AML until a complete blood count (CBC) returns an unusual count of all blood cells. Doctors might require a small bone marrow extraction when a CBC count is lower than normal to analyze what types of white blood cells are abnormal. A biopsy might not be necessary because abnormal blood cells might already be found in the bloodstream in the late stages of the disease.
There are two phases to the treatment of AML chemotherapy. The induction phase requires seven days of perpetual intravenous injections of medications such as cytarabine. The induction phase aims to attack all the abnormal white cells and reduce the levels not detected from testing.
The second phase is post-remission, also known as consolidation treatment. Those who survive the induction phase of treatment normally undergo a bone marrow transplant, and then receive three to five additional treatments of chemotherapy to eliminate the remaining abnormal cells. During both phases of treatment, the patient is required to stay in the hospital because risk of infection is great due to the effects of the chemotherapy.
AML is difficult to treat. Only 20% to 30% of those affected are cured, although these statistics might be higher since elderly patients might not be treated at all. Because human life expectancy is longer, researchers expect a rise in acute myeloid leukemia. Those over the age of 63 are more likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia. Unfortunately, a cure for acute myeloid leukemia remains difficult to discover.