- Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a form of acute leukaemia which develops when bone marrow produces immature blood cells which divide rapidly and do not mature
- These immature myeloid cells are called myeloblasts, which normally develop into white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets
- AML is the most common form of acute leukaemia in adults, primarily affecting Australians over the age of 65
- Each year approximately 1,100 Australians are diagnosed with AML
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Acute myeloid leukaemia is a type of blood cancer which develops from immature white blood cells called myeloblasts.
There are many different subtypes of AML which are defined based on genetic mutations that have caused the cancer.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) classification system classifies AML into subtypes using a number of factors including genetic abnormalities, myelodysplasia-related changes, past exposure to radiation or chemotherapy, myeloid sarcoma and myeloid proliferations in Down syndrome.
As signs and symptoms for AML can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive an AML diagnosis.
Symptoms may include:
Aches and pain in the bones
Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
Pain in the chest, coughing and/or trouble breathing
Swollen, painless lymph nodes under the arms, neck or groin
Enlarged stomach due to swollen lymph nodes or spleen
Anaemia due to lack of red blood cells
Increased bleeding and bruising
The traditional cancer staging system is not used to stage AML. Instead, the subtypes of AML can help doctors understand what your cancer looks like based on laboratory testing (including genetic testing) and the classification systems.
People who have a first degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, diagnosed with leukaemia have an increased risk of developing AML but it commonly presents in people with no family history. Common inherited conditions that have been linked to AML include Fanconi anaemia, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Down syndrome.
The cause of AML is not fully known, however there are some factors which contribute to the risk of AML developing, including:
- Age – The risk for AML increases for people over 65 years
- Certain lifestyle-related factors – Such as drinking alcohol, smoking or chewing tobacco, exposure to chemicals such as benzene or large levels of radiation, and previous cancer treatments with chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy
- Genetic disorders and family history – Having a family history of leukaemia (such as a mother, father or sibling) or inherited conditions such as Down syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Fanconi anaemia, can increase the risk for AML
- Other bone marrow disorders – Including myelodysplastic syndromes, polycythemia vera and myelofibrosis
Most often, an underlying cause for AML is not found.
Leukaemia is less common than other cancer types, affecting 1 in 61 Australians by the age of 85. AML is the most common form of acute leukaemia in adults, primarily affecting Australians over the age of 65. Each year approximately 1,100 Australians are diagnosed with AML, with more men than women diagnosed.
There are many different tests that are used to diagnose AML. This may include blood tests to check your full blood count, Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and serology to determine if leukaemia cells are present. A bone marrow biopsy or aspiration is usually conducted to check for leukaemia cells within your bone marrow.
AML and ALL are two forms of acute leukaemia which develop from different types of white blood cells. AML develops from myeloid cells while ALL develops from lymphocytes such as B-cells and T-cells.
There are a number of lifestyle-related factors you can consider to reduce your risk of developing AML, like:
- Quitting smoking – Cigarette smoking carries a significantly higher risk of developing AML
- Getting regular exercise – Cancer Australia recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day
- Avoiding exposure to chemicals – Such as benzene or large levels of radiation
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet – Eat a fibre-rich diet from grain and legume sources, as well as enjoy a variety of fruit (2 serves) and vegetables (5 serves) per day, limit your intake of salt and saturated fats, and avoid all processed meat.
Icon offers clinical trials across a wide range of cancer types and treatments. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor who will be able to find a trial that might be right for you and your cancer.
- Cancer Council (2020). Acute myeloid leukaemia. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/acute-myeloid-leukaemia/
- Cancer Council (2020). Understanding acute leukaemia. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Understanding-Acute-Leukaemia-2020.pdf
- Leukaemia Foundation (2020). Acute myeloid leukaemia. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from https://www.leukaemia.org.au/blood-cancer-information/types-of-blood-cancer/leukaemia/acute-myeloid-leukemia/
- American Cancer Society (2018). Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Subtypes and Prognostic Factors. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/acute-myeloid-leukemia/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-classified.html
- Karalexi, Maria A et al. (2017). Parental alcohol consumption and risk of leukaemia in the offspring: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. 26 (5) 26(5):433-441. doi: 10.1097/CEJ.0000000000000350
- Cancer.Net (2017). Leukemia – Acute Myeloid – AML: Risk Factors. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/leukemia-acute-myeloid-aml/risk-factors
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