The early signs of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are nonspecific, like fever and fatigue. As such, a person may mistake them for the flu or other common illnesses. But unlike the flu, they gradually worsen and persist as the condition progresses.

AML is a type of cancer that affects the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. It causes the bone marrow to produce abnormal myeloid cells, which are responsible for producing blood cells, such as platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells called myeloblasts.

In AML, these cells divide very rapidly, do not mature, cannot carry out their normal functions, and do not die easily. They fill the bone marrow, crowding out the healthy blood-making cells. The shortage of normal blood cells and the buildup of cancerous cells result in the signs and symptoms of AML.

In this article, we explore the potential early signs of AML and the nature and timeline of these signs and symptoms.

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The early signs and symptoms of AML are vague, nonspecific, and resemble the flu or other common illnesses. But unlike flu symptoms, leukemia symptoms do not subside, develop over a few weeks, and may become worse over time. Early AML symptoms can include:

Without treatment, these symptoms usually develop and worsen rapidly as the number of leukemia cells increase.

Click here to learn more about the early signs of all types of leukemia.

Health experts describe AML as an acute type of leukemia. This term means that it is aggressive and has a rapid onset and progression. A person may not show any symptoms during its early stage but will begin to experience symptoms as the condition advances.

Typically, symptoms of AML may appear 4–6 weeks before diagnosis. As the condition becomes more advanced, the varying symptoms will become more noticeable.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are currently no screening tests that can detect AML early.

AML symptoms usually develop rapidly, which may allow a person to detect them early. As such, this makes promptly reporting possible signs and symptoms the best way to identify AML as soon as possible.

However, a 2018 study notes that tests could detect potential variations in the blood of individuals otherwise not showing or experiencing signs of illness that could highlight their risk of developing AML. The results from this research indicate that it could be possible to detect warning signs up to 10 years before a person develops AML.

The most common risk factor associated with AML is a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Evidence suggests that in 1 in 3 individuals, MDS can progress into AML. Because of this, doctors may refer to MDS as pre-leukemia or smoldering leukemia.

Aplastic anemia and myelofibrosis are other blood disorders that can increase a person’s risk of AML.

Congenital disorders caused by genetic variation and chromosomal problems may also increase the risk of AML. These conditions may include:

Other risk factors for AML mayalsoinclude:

  • being male
  • having a close relative with AML
  • older age
  • smoking
  • previous exposure to chemotherapy treatment

Exposure to the following environmental hazards could also be risk factors for AML:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies benzene as “carcinogenic to humans.” Manufacturers use benzene to produce rubbers, dyes, pesticides, plastics, and lubricants. Its presence in these products may be responsible for the higher AML risk among the following workers:

  • automobile workers
  • construction workers
  • agriculture workers
  • janitorial workers

Click here to learn more about AML risk factors.

AML shares signs and symptoms with other common diseases, and most people with these symptoms do not have leukemia.

However, it is important for a person to be mindful of symptoms and consult a primary care doctor if they feel it is necessary. For example, if a person experiences a symptom that is not typical for them, persists, or continues over an extended period of time, it may be advisable to contact a doctor.

The earlier a doctor is able to identify AML, the easier it is to treat and the more responsive it is to treatment.

AML is an aggressive form of leukemia that can cause a range of symptoms early in the disease process.

However, these symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, and bone and joint pain, are general, and a person could mistake them for another condition, such as the flu.

There are currently no screening tests to detect AML early. But it is vital for a person to reach out to a primary care doctor if they are experiencing persistent symptoms, which may indicate the presence of the disease.