Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

What is Acute Myelogenous Leukemia?

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow. It progresses rapidly and crowds out healthy blood cells. Acute myelogenous leukemia typically affects adults.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of acute myelogenous leukemia. Our specialist hematologists/oncologists and oncology certified nurses provide advanced cancer care in our facilities, which are accredited by the Commission on Cancer. Plus, our infusion centers make outpatient cancer care as convenient as possible.

You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.

Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia include:

  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Fever
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Night sweats
  • Pale skin
  • Persistent lethargy or fatigue
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosing Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

A physician may detect leukemia in a routine blood test, before symptoms begin. If someone has symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia, we perform a physical examination and ask questions about symptoms. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures can include:

Blood tests: Looking at a sample of blood, physicians can determine if a person has too many white blood cells and not enough red blood cells or platelets. The presence of immature cells normally found in bone marrow, called blast cells, that circulate in the blood can also indicate AML.

Bone marrow test: If AML is suspected, a sample of bone marrow may be removed from the hip bone. The marrow is removed with a long, thin needle and tested for acute myelogenous leukemia markers.

Lumbar puncture: Also known as a spinal tap, this test involves a physician inserting a small needle into the spinal canal to collect fluid and check for leukemia cells.


Researchers don’t know the exact causes of acute myelogenous leukemia, but believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors can lead to its development. Smoking is thought to increase the risk of AML.

Risk Factors

Risk factors that can contribute to acute myelogenous leukemia include:

Age: Risk of developing AML increases with age. It’s most common in adults over the age of 65.

Blood disorders: Those with another blood disorder, such as myelodysplasia, polycythemia vera or thrombocythemia, are at greater risk of developing AML.

Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to substances such as benzene has been linked to some forms of leukemia.

Exposure to radiation: People exposed to very high levels of radiation, such as survivors of a nuclear reactor accident, have an increased risk of developing AML.

Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop AML.

Genetic disorders: Some genetic disorders, like Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of AML.

Previous cancer treatment: AML sometimes develops in people who have been treated with chemotherapy and radiation for other types of cancer.


There is no known way to prevent acute myelogenous leukemia. Avoid smoking to reduce your risk of AML and other cancers.


Acute myelogenous leukemia is treatable and prognosis depends on many factors, especially a person’s response to treatment. A person’s outlook tends to be better if he or she is younger than 60, does not have a history of blood disorders or other cancers, and does not have certain gene mutations or chromosome changes.

Treatment and Recovery

Acute myelogenous leukemia treatment depends on a person’s age, overall health and preferences. Treatments may include:


Special drugs designed to kill cancer cells can be given as a pill or injected into the bloodstream. People with AML undergoing chemotherapy typically stay in the hospital because the drugs destroy many normal blood cells. Most people with leukemia go into remission after the first round of chemo. However, if it doesn’t lead to remission, another round of chemo may be given, either with the same drugs or with another regimen.

Stem Cell Transplant

This procedure replaces diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Before the transplant, a patient receives high doses of chemotherapy or radiation to destroy diseased bone marrow. Then, the patient receives an infusion of blood-forming stem cells to help rebuild the bone marrow – either from a donor or one’s own stem cells.

Radiation Therapy

Another targeted AML treatment is radiation therapy. Targeted radiation can limit or stop cancer cell growth. Your doctor may use an X-ray machine to help deliver high-impact radiation to your cancer cells.

Your doctor may also inject a needle to apply radiation. Some doctors may insert a radioactive wire into your body to reach the cancer. During any method, your doctors will deliver radiation on or near your cancerous cells.

Diagnosing your AML subtype 

There are multiple AML subtypes. Your doctor may order additional tests to identify one of these subtypes. Doctors then use the subtype to determine the best treatment option.

Subtypes depend on the specific appearance and characteristics of your cells. Doctors will examine your cells using a microscope and other specialized testing equipment. After these tests, they will diagnose your AML subtype.

Targeted Therapy

Some anti-cancer drugs can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy to induce remission for a subtype of AML called promyelocytic leukemia. These drugs cause leukemia cells with a specific gene mutation to mature and die, or to stop dividing.


Acute myelogenous leukemia can return after treatment. Other complications can include:

  • Anemia
  • Bleeding
  • Frequent infections
  • Infertility
  • Weight loss

Next Steps with MyChart

Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.