Acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) is another name for acute myeloid leukemia. AML refers to a group of cancers of the blood and the bone marrow.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), AML is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults, but it is still relatively rare. It accounts for 1% of cancer diagnoses in the United States.

This article will discuss what AML is, its other names, risk factors, and how early diagnosis and treatment can affect the outlook for people with the condition.

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AML, which medical experts also call acute myeloid leukemia, is a type of blood cancer affecting white blood cells.

“Acute” means that the leukemia is growing fast and progressing quickly. By contrast, a leukemia that progresses more slowly is called chronic leukemia.

Leukemia stems from a problem with how blood cells develop inside the bone marrow. Most blood stem cells develop into two types of blood cell: lymphoid and myeloid cells.

Lymphoid cells become white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Myeloid cells can mature into red blood cells, platelets, or other types of white blood cells. Health experts refer to myeloid cells that turn into white blood cells as myeloblasts.

With AML, a series of mutations in the DNA of a myeloblast changes the way the cell develops. Instead of becoming a healthy white blood cell, the myeloblast continues to replicate itself. Large numbers of these abnormal cells build up in the bone marrow and get into the bloodstream. As a result, the myeloblasts crowd out healthy blood cells that the body needs to function properly.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, “acute myeloid leukemia” is a more common name for the condition than “AML.”

There are many subtypes of AML, depending on which parts of the DNA have become affected.

Other general names for AML include:

The ACS estimates that in 2021, 20,240 people in the U.S. will receive an AML diagnosis. Most of these cases will affect adults, as the average age at diagnosis is 68 years.

According to the ACS, a person’s lifetime risk of developing AML is around 0.5%. A lifetime risk of 0.5% is equivalent to 1 out of every 200 people in the U.S. developing the condition during their lifetime.

The factors that cause AML differ between people. While anyone can develop AML, the risk increases with age. This is because DNA mutations are more frequent in older adults.

Moreover, males are slightly more likely to develop the condition than females.

According to the ACS, other risk factors include:

Individually, AML symptoms are nonspecific, and it is common for a person with AML to mistake them for those of other, less serious health problems.

Symptoms of AML may include:

If a doctor suspects that a person has AML, they will recommend a complete blood count to establish how many of each type of blood cell are circulating in the blood.

Individuals with AML may have large numbers of abnormal cells or low numbers of healthy cells in circulation. Moreover, many people with AML have low numbers of all circulating cells, because the bone marrow is only making abnormal cells that get stuck in the bone marrow.

Doctors may also collect bone marrow samples, as this is where the damaged myeloblasts originate. To examine the bone marrow, a doctor will perform a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration.

During the procedure, they will collect both a liquid and solid bone marrow sample, usually from the pelvis, to detect abnormal myeloblasts and further analyze their genetic makeup.

Doctors diagnose AML if more than 20% of the cells in the blood or bone marrow are myeloblasts. Further tests are necessary to diagnose the subtype of AML, which will help determine most suitable treatment options.

Doctors tailor AML treatment for each individual depending on a person’s overall health, age, and the AML subtype they have.

The first stage of treatment is the induction phase. The goal is to reduce the number of myeloblasts and send the cancer into remission.

The second stage of treatment is the consolidation phase, which involves further intensive treatments that aim at keeping the leukemia in a long-term remission.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the main types of treatment for AML across both phases include:

Doctors also treat the side effects of treatment, such as nausea and blood cell loss.

The ACS states that 2 in 3 people who receive chemotherapy treatment for AML go into remission.

Currently, the 5-year survival rate is 29.5%, according to the NCI report. However, many leukemias will relapse after achieving initial remission, requiring further treatment.

The NCI notes that survival rates have been improving year after year between 2010 and 2019.

When AML does not go into remission with standard treatments, a doctor may suggest that a person with AML participate in a clinical trial.

Learn more about clinical trials here.

AML is a type of cancer that starts in blood stem cells in the bone marrow. A more common name for the condition is acute myeloid leukemia.

There are several subtypes of AML, and the treatment and outlook will depend on the subtype of the condition, as well as a person’s age and overall health at diagnosis.