Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

Acute myeloid leukaemia is a type of blood cancer which develops from immature white blood cells called myeloblasts.

Last modified: February 16, 2022

Quick facts about acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)Quick facts

  • 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

Types of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)Types of AML

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.

Signs and symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)Signs and symptoms

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:

  • Unexplained fevers

  • Tiredness

  • Night sweats

  • 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

  • Chronic infections

  • Anaemia due to lack of red blood cells

  • Increased bleeding and bruising

Stages of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)Stages

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.

Treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

There are many different types of treatment for AML. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Frequently asked questions about acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)FAQs

Is acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) hereditary?

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.

What causes acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)?

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.

How common is acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)?

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.

How is acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) 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.

What is the difference between acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)?

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.

What can I do to decrease my risk of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)?

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. 
Are there clinical trials available for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) that I can participate in?

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.  

See current clinical trials delivered by Icon Cancer Centre.  


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council (2020). Acute myeloid leukaemia. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from
  2. Cancer Council (2020). Understanding acute leukaemia. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from
  3. Leukaemia Foundation (2020). Acute myeloid leukaemia. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from
  4. American Cancer Society (2018). Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Subtypes and Prognostic Factors. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from
  5. 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
  6. Cancer.Net (2017). Leukemia – Acute Myeloid – AML: Risk Factors. Retrieved 24 December 2021 from
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