Acute Myelogenous Leukemia

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Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. AML begins in immature myeloblasts and progresses very quickly. It may also occur as the end state of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).

Causes & Risks

No cause of AML has been identified; however, smoking after age 60 doubles your risk of getting AML, and 20 percent of cases overall relate to smoking tobacco. Other factors that increase your chance of developing AML include:

  • Being male
  • Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment
  • Previous treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain other cancers
  • Exposure to atomic bomb radiation or a nuclear reactor accident
  • Exposure to the chemical benzene
  • History of a blood disorder, such as myelodysplastic syndrome (precancerous changes in the white cells and precursor cells of the bone marrow)

Symptoms of AML

See a doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Paleness (a sign of anemia)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Bone pain
  • Joint pain
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Swelling, pain and bleeding of the gums
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach or groin

A variety of blood, fluid and lymph node tests, along with imaging scans, may help with diagnosis.


Treatment of AML usually involves two phases:

  • Remission induction therapy — to kill leukemia cells
  • Maintenance therapy — to kill any remaining leukemia cells that could grow and cause a relapse

Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
  • Other medications
  • Biologic therapy

You may also experience and need treatment for:

    • Anemia
    • Lack of blood clotting 
    • Increased infections


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.