Leukemia is an umbrella term for cancers affecting the blood-forming cells in the body. Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer that involves the bone marrow.

Doctors may also refer to it as acute myeloid leukemia, acute nonlymphocytic leukemia, acute myelocytic leukemia, or acute granulocytic leukemia. It is an aggressive cancer, so it requires immediate treatment.

AML first forms in the bone marrow but quickly spreads to the blood. It is different than other forms of leukemia because it has eight distinct subtypes, which develop from different types of cells.

AML is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults, and it happens when the bone marrow begins making myeloblasts, also called blasts. These cells have not yet wholly matured, but they typically develop into white blood cells. AML can also develop from other types of blood-forming cells.

People with AML may experience symptoms that include:

  • frequent infections and fever
  • anemia
  • easy bleeding or bruising
  • joint and bone pain

This article looks at the treatment options for AML and the outlook for people with this disease. It also explores living as an AML survivor.

A person receiving treatment for AML.Share on Pinterest
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The approval of new treatments means that the outlook for people with AML is slowly improving. However, of the forms of acute leukemia that affect adults, AML currently has the shortest length of survival. The 5-year survival rate among all people with AML is 24%.

Children with AML have a higher 5-year survival rate of 65–70%, depending on the subtype. For example, the cure rate for a subtype called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is more than 80%.

The subtype of AML and the individual’s overall health may determine the treatment options. Possible treatments for AML include:

One treatment option is induction chemotherapy, which involves several drugs. Doctors use this treatment regimen to eliminate leukemia cells and bring blood counts back to normal.

Consolidation chemotherapy can follow induction chemotherapy to treat any remaining leukemia cells that are not visible in the blood or bone marrow.

Research suggests that while treatments such as intensive chemotherapy and allogeneic stem cell transplantation may be curative for younger people, they are less likely to be effective in older individuals.

People who undergo intensive chemotherapy may need to stay in the hospital for 3–5 weeks.

The treatment regimen for AML can lead to a decline in quality of life and mood. However, people who receive palliative care show substantial improvements in quality of life, psychological well-being, and end-of-life care.

Specialized palliative care clinicians help people manage their physical symptoms, including pain, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, and insomnia. They can also help people manage related mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Once an individual can call themself a survivor, they will need to monitor their health continually.

It will be important to attend follow-up exams to check for a recurrence of leukemia and any possible treatment side effects. In the beginning, these exams happen every month or so, but they become less frequent over time. During these appointments, a doctor will perform an examination, check for any concerning symptoms, and, in some cases, order blood tests or a bone marrow exam.

If several years have gone by since treatment completion, and there are no signs of leukemia, it is unlikely that AML will return. However, it is still possible, particularly with the APL subtype.

There is no evidence that lifestyle changes can prevent AML from returning. However, adopting healthy behaviors, such as eating a balanced diet, not smoking, staying at a moderate weight, and getting regular physical activity, will only have positive effects on a person’s health.

Some survivors may experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. These individuals may find it helpful to talk with friends, family members, religious groups, support groups, or professional counselors.

In general, cancers result from mutations in cells. These mutations can stop bone marrow cells from maturing normally and may cause cells to grow out of control.

The risk factors for AML include:

  • older age
  • being male
  • smoking
  • exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene
  • treatment with some chemotherapy drugs
  • radiation exposure
  • having certain blood disorders
  • having a genetic syndrome
  • family history of the disease

AML is most prevalent among older people, with the median age at diagnosis being 68 years in the United States. One-third of people with AML are older than 75 years. Although children and young adults can have AML, it is uncommon in individuals younger than 45 years. AML is also slightly more common among males than females.

AML is a form of leukemia that develops in the bone marrow and quickly spreads to the blood. It is most common in older people but can sometimes affect children and younger adults.

The treatment options for AML include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplantation, and targeted therapy. However, this type of cancer currently has a relatively low survival rate.

Survivors of AML need to be diligent about follow-up exams to ensure that leukemia does not recur and that there are no adverse side effects of treatment. If there has been no recurrence during the first couple of years after treatment, it is unlikely, although not impossible, that AML will return.