Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow but can quickly spread to the blood. This condition increases the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine can lower these risks, but doctors must decide when is the right time for someone with AML to receive it.

AML is a rare form of cancer, accounting for around 1% of all cancer cases in the United States. However, it is the most common form of leukemia in adults, and it caused around 11,180 deaths in 2020.

AML usually develops from cells that would have turned into white blood cells. It is a rare form of cancer that weakens the immune system.

Treatments for AML can also affect the immune system by lowering the number of blood cells in the body. This means there is a greater risk of complications from COVID-19 in people with the condition.

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for a person with cancer, such as AML, to take.

Keep reading to learn about the risks of COVID-19, vaccination, and AML.

Coronavirus resources

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

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According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), people with cancer have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The NCI also states that people with blood cancers have an even higher risk of prolonged infections and death from COVID-19 than people with solid tumors.

AML is a type of cancer that originates in the bone marrow and quickly moves to the blood. It typically develops in cells that would become white blood cells.

AML can quickly spread to other body parts, such as the liver or central nervous system.

People with blood cancers typically have lower levels of immune cells that protect the body against viruses. This means that people with AML are at a greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.

AML causes some of the same general symptoms as COVID-19, including fever and tiredness. Additionally, AML can lead to complications that worsen these symptoms and cause other symptoms that overlap with those of COVID-19.

For example, AML that reduces the number of red or white blood cells can also result in headaches, chills, and breathing difficulties.

Consequently, people with AML could experience more intense COVID-19 symptoms than people without AML.

Learn more about symptoms of AML here.

COVID-19 symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 commonly causes fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Less common COVID-19 symptoms include:

In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, or difficulty speaking and moving.

Learn about COVID-19 symptoms by severity level here.

People with AML have a weakened immune system. This is typically a result of the condition, some forms of treatment, or both.

There are four types of treatment for most people with AML:

A weakened immune system

AML treatments can weaken the immune system.

For example, chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancerous cells or prevent them from dividing. It can reduce the number of neutrophils in the blood, which are a type of white blood cell. The immune system is less effective with fewer white blood cells to fight infections.

People with weakened immune systems from these treatments have a higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Individuals with AML may require these treatments to prevent severe complications or symptoms.

Continue treatment and appointments

People with AML who are receiving treatment should continue attending appointments unless a medical professional advises otherwise.

However, it is important to contact a doctor before each appointment to discuss the risks of visiting a clinic and continuing treatment.

A doctor will decide how to treat AML within the context of COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.

According to the American Society of Hematology, giving chemotherapy to a person with COVID-19 can carry some risks, as the chemotherapy may interact negatively with the COVID-19 treatment the person is receiving.

Doctors may adjust the intensity and nature of treatment plans for people with AML depending on their individual risks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone over the age of 12 should get the COVID-19 vaccination, including those with cancer. However, the timing of vaccination may vary depending on treatment progression.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that most people with cancer or a history of cancer should get the COVID-19 vaccine. The ACS also highlights the importance of first discussing vaccination with a doctor to determine the best approach.

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for people with cancer, including AML. However, the vaccine may be less effective at preventing COVID-19 in people with weakened immune systems. For this reason, doctors may suggest that some people with AML wait for their immune system to strengthen before they get the vaccine.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that one type of vaccine is safer or more effective than another in people with AML, as none of the current vaccines are live attenuated vaccines.

A guide to different COVID-19 vaccines

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

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People with AML and other cancers have a higher risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 due to their weakened immune systems.

These risks make it essential that people with AML take extra precautions against infection. The ACS states that these precautions are still important in people with cancer who have received the vaccine.

Some tips on protecting against COVID-19 in addition to vaccination include:

  • wearing a tightly fitted face mask
  • staying 6 feet, or approximately two arm lengths, away from other people
  • avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated locations
  • washing the hands and surfaces regularly
  • covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow
  • staying up to date on local COVID-19 guidance
  • checking for COVID-19 symptoms regularly

Read a visual guide to proper hand-washing here.

Mask recommendations

The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear cloth face masks in indoor public settings. If case numbers are high in the area, it may be best to wear a mask outdoors, as well.

This will help slow the spread of the virus from people who do not know that they have contracted it, including those who are asymptomatic. Note: It is critical that surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.

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People with AML, which is a rare type of cancer, have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. This is due to the effects of the condition and some of its treatments.

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19, including in people with cancer. However, the COVID-19 vaccine may be less effective in people with weakened immune systems. People with AML may be undergoing treatments that weaken their immune system.

Doctors may recommend that a person wait for the immune system to strengthen, or suggest changing treatment approaches before the person receives the vaccine.