People with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) have an increased risk of developing other cancers. Second or third cancers are rare, but doctors have reported cases of them.

AML is a blood cancer that causes white blood cells to form abnormally, which reduces their ability to function. About 1% of all cancers are AML, making it rare.

The disease is often treatable and can go into remission. This means a person no longer experiences symptoms, and tests no longer detect leukemia cells in the blood.

However, it is common for AML to relapse, which involves the cancer cells returning. About two-thirds of people with AML who achieve remission experience relapses, often in the first 18 months after the initial treatment. This risk increases with age.

When a second cancer develops, it is not related to the original cancer. It is new, different type of cancer.

Below, we describe the types of cancer that may develop in people with AML and the symptoms to be aware of.

Woman wearing head wrap looking thoughtfully out window, possibly undergoing cancer treatmentShare on Pinterest
FatCamera/Getty Images

People with AML have an increased risk of developing other cancers. A 2014 study cites earlier findings that people with AML who are younger than 60 are three times more likely to develop a second cancer, compared with similar people who do not have AML.

Older research followed 501 participants with AML from 1970 to 1996, beginning when they were children. The team found that the participants’ risk of second cancers was 10 times that of the general population.

The authors of the 2014 study explain that as the treatment of AML becomes more successful, people with AML are living longer, which increases the likelihood of developing a second cancer.

Risk factors

Below are some factors that can increase the risk of developing another cancer for someone with AML:

  • Age when first diagnosed: People who are younger than 60 when they receive the AML diagnosis may have a higher risk of developing a second cancer, according to the 2014 study.
  • Chemotherapy for AML: Some chemotherapy drugs can increase the risk of developing certain other cancers. The dosage of the chemotherapy and the type of AML can also influence the outlook.
  • Stem cell transplants: A 2003 analysis included 3,372 participants who had each received a stem cell transplant between 1974 and 2001. The findings indicate that the risk of second cancers can increase for up to 20 years after a stem cell transplant.

The researchers behind the 2014 study report cite older research that found higher rates of breast cancer, lung cancer, oral and pharyngeal cancer, and colorectal cancer in people with AML.

Symptoms of breast cancer

Research has found that people who survive breast cancer have a higher risk of developing AML as a second cancer. Conversely, breast cancer can develop as a second cancer in people with AML.

The CDC lists these symptoms of breast cancer:

  • swelling or thickening of part of a breast
  • skin discoloration or flakiness on or around the nipple
  • blood or other unusual discharge from the nipple
  • nipple pain
  • a new lump in the breast or underarm
  • changes in breast size or shape
  • pain in the breast area

Males can also develop breast cancer, but it is much more rare.

Symptoms of oral and pharyngeal cancer

People with AML in remission who are under 60 may have a higher risk of developing oral and pharyngeal cancer. Symptoms of this disease include:

  • pain in the mouth
  • a sore on the lips or in the mouth that does not heal
  • a lump or thickening of tissue around the cheek, lips, or mouth
  • a sore throat
  • a feeling that something is stuck in the throat
  • a mass in the mouth or throat
  • a white or red patch of tissue on the lining of the mouth, tonsils, tongue, or gums
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • changes in the voice
  • teeth loosening
  • pain in or by the teeth
  • dentures becoming uncomfortable or loose
  • ear pain
  • unexplained weight loss

A person with AML in remission should be aware of these symptoms and contact a healthcare professional if any develop.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer

People over 60 with AML in remission may have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer symptoms include:

  • bright bleeding from the rectum
  • a change in bowel routines, including constipation, diarrhea, or very narrow stools that last more than a few days
  • stomach pain or cramping
  • blood in the stool, particularly if it is dark or tarry
  • after a bowel movement, feeling that the bowels are not completely empty
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • unexplained weight loss

These symptoms can stem from many different conditions. But if a person has had treatment for AML and notices any of these symptoms, they should contact a healthcare professional.

Symptoms of lung cancer

The American Cancer Society lists the following symptoms of lung cancer:

  • a cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks
  • chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, laughing, or coughing
  • coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • hoarseness
  • appetite loss
  • unintended weight loss
  • breathlessness
  • weakness or fatigue
  • returning bronchitis or pneumonia
  • new wheezing

Many other conditions can cause lung cancer symptoms. However, if person has had AML treatment and any of the symptoms above persists, they should contact a healthcare professional.

People with AML in remission may develop other types of cancer, and the type of AML and its treatment can influence this risk.

It is important to know the symptoms of the most common second cancers in people with AML. Anyone with symptoms should contact a healthcare professional. Receiving treatment early improves the likelihood of a successful outcome.