Secondary acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of leukemia that can arise when a person has had a blood condition in the past or has previously had cancer treatment. Secondary AML is typically quite aggressive.

AML is a type of leukemia that can occur when the bone marrow makes a large number of abnormal blood cells. Secondary AML may develop as a result of a condition such as myelodysplastic syndrome or as a result of some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

Read on to find out more about the causes and risk factors for AML. This article also discusses symptoms, treatment options, diagnosis, and more.

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Secondary AML is a type of leukemia that can develop if a person has had a previous blood or bone marrow condition, including:

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS): MDS refers to a group of blood cancers in which a person has low levels of certain blood cells.
  • Chronic myeloproliferative syndrome (MPN): With chronic MPN, the bone marrow makes an excess of red or white blood cells or platelets.
  • Myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative overlap syndromes: This refers to a type of blood cancer that shares features of both MDS and MPN.

Secondary AML may also occur if a person has undergone prior cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This is known as therapy-related AML.

It is difficult to know exactly what causes AML. Changes or mutations in the DNA can cause healthy bone marrow cells to become leukemia cells.

This causes the myeloid stem cells in the bone marrow to produce too many white blood cells that do not have time to fully mature. These immature white blood cells are not able to fight infections effectively.

This also creates less room for red blood cells and platelets. As those decrease, a person may start to experience symptoms of secondary AML.

Some symptoms of secondary AML can include:

Learn about the early signs of AML.

To diagnose secondary AML, a doctor may take a full medical history, including information about any previous blood or bone marrow conditions and any previous treatments for cancer.

They may then take samples of blood and bone marrow.

A doctor may order two bone marrow tests. These tests include bone marrow aspiration and bone marrow biopsy.

Bone marrow aspiration involves using a thin needle and a syringe to draw out a small amount of liquid from inside the bone marrow.

During a bone marrow biopsy, a doctor will extract a small amount of bone and bone marrow with a slightly larger needle.

Learn more about bone marrow biopsies for AML.

If the test results reveal that AML is present, and a person has had a previous blood condition or cancer treatment, a doctor will typically diagnose secondary AML.

Learn more about how doctors diagnose AML.

Some of the treatments for secondary AML can include:

A person’s doctor can explain their treatment options and answer any questions they may have so they can make an informed decision about their treatment plan.

Learn more about treatments for AML.

Currently, the 5-year overall survival rate for a person with secondary AML is less than 30%.

However, the outlook will be different for each individual. It is best for a person to speak with their doctor for more information about their personal circumstances.

Learn more about AML survival rates.

The survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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Here are some frequently asked questions about secondary AML.

What are the types of secondary AML?

Secondary AML that occurs after a person has had a previous blood condition is sometimes known as AML with myelodysplasia-related changes (AML-MRC).

Another type of secondary AML is therapy-related AML (t-AML). This can occur after a person has had previous cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Learn more about therapy-related AML.

What is the difference between de novo AML and secondary AML?

De novo AML refers to when a person has an AML diagnosis but no history of blood conditions or cancer treatments. Secondary AML refers to an AML diagnosis where the individual has previously had a blood condition or certain cancer treatments.

Is secondary AML curable?

Doctors do not typically consider secondary AML to be a curable condition. There is a low probability of complete remission, and relapses of the condition can occur frequently.

Secondary AML is a form of leukemia that can occur after a person has had a previous blood condition or treatment for cancer.

Symptoms of secondary AML can include fatigue, shortness of breath, excessive bleeding, and easy bruising.

Treatments for secondary AML include chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, venetoclax and hypomethylating agents, and JAK inhibitors.

It is best for a person to contact their doctor if they have concerns about the symptoms of AML or secondary AML. The doctor may order blood and bone marrow tests to confirm the diagnosis and advise on suitable treatments.