Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment

Acute myeloid leukemia or AML is a potentially deadly type of bone marrow cancer. It is also one of the most common types of bone marrow cancer. The bone marrow is responsible for making new blood cells. But instead of making new blood cells, people with AML make cancer cells. Cancer cells reproduce very fast and completely replace white blood cells or the cells that fight illnesses or invading microorganisms.

AML contributes to many severe health issues such a lack of immunity to infectious diseases and sudden bleeding problems. The worst problem is that the cancer will spread to other organs. Since it’s a cancer of the circulatory system, the chances for this are high.

The prognosis for acute myeloid leukemia is much better than it was a generation ago, when diagnosis was often a death sentence. Many people are successfully cured, but some will relapse. If a cancer has not returned in five years, then doctors and oncologists consider this a cure.

Risk Factors

Just what exactly causes AML is still a mystery, although many people with AML have been exposed to radiation or other chemicals which can cause cell mutations. Acute myeloid leukemia rarely appears to anyone under 40. The average AML patient is male, over 60 and has been exposed to toxic substances such as radiation or benzine.

Other people at risk of developing AML include:

  • Patients who received an organ transplant

  • People suffering from a blood disorder

  • Smoking

  • People who suffered acute lymphoblastic leukemia as children

  • People with a past history of chemotherapy

  • People with a past history of radiation therapy for any cancer.

Symptoms

The earliest known symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia are identical to the flu, so people ignore these symptoms, convinced that they have the flu. But this flu does not go away and produces more symptoms, including:

  • Fever

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Body, bone or muscle aches

  • Chronic skin rash

  • Chronic pale skin

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Unexplained weight loss, usually coupled with a loss of appetite

  • Skin bruises much easier than usual

  • Skin tears or opens up for seemingly no reason

  • Gums that easily bleed

  • Chronic nosebleeds

  • Heavier than usual menstrual flow for women

  • Flat red spots under the skin that looks as if the person was stuck by numerous pins. This is actually blood under the skin.

One of the rarest symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia is swollen gums, similar to gingivitis. Bleeding gums is also another symptom of gingivitis.

Treatment

The earlier treatment begins the better person’s chances of surviving AML. In order to get an accurate diagnosis of how advanced the cancer is, the patient will need to undergo a physical examination, a complete blood cell count blood test and a bone marrow biopsy to sample the cells in the bone marrow. Patients may also be treated with chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics and blood transfusions.

In the worst cases, patients would need bone marrow transfers – a long, painful and tricky process. New research into stem cell treatment may reduce the need for bone marrow transfers.

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