Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive and rare blood cancer of the myeloid cells.1 Myeloid cells include red blood cells, platelets, and certain types of white blood cells.
AML starts in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of bones, where new blood cells are made) with a build-up of immature myeloid cells (also known as ‘blasts’). These ‘blasts’ do not function like normal mature blood cells and rapidly grow and divide crowding out room for normal, healthy cells to grow.2
What causes AML?
AML can affect both children and adults. However, it is most common in adults and the risk of developing the disease increases with age. In the UK, it is thought 3,100 people are diagnosed with AML each year.2
It is not known what exactly causes AML. Certain factors such as age and gender can have a greater impact on the likelihood of developing the condition, but beyond this, the evidence is not entirely conclusive.1 There are some rare external factors, which are thought to increase the risk of developing AML – for example, those who have received radiotherapy as part of previous cancer treatments or people who have a previous history of other blood conditions may be more prone to developing AML.1
Diagnosis of AML
Common symptoms of AML include, bleeding, bruising, tiredness or weakness, fever and infections.1,3 During the initial stages of diagnosing AML, a GP will typically check for physical signs of the condition and take a blood test. An abnormal white blood cell count could indicate leukaemia. To confirm a diagnosis of AML, a bone marrow sample is needed.4
AML is caused by accumulation of mutations in the DNA of the affected cells. Samples are sent for laboratory testing to identify these mutations. Knowing the subtype of AML based on mutations helps doctors choose the most appropriate course of treatment and determine the risk profile of each patient’s disease.
Treatment and management of AML
Treatment for AML depends on a number of factors such as age, the subtype of AML, medical fitness, risk of relapse, plus many other considerations.1
AML can progress rapidly and as such treatment usually is initiated quickly. The first aim of therapy is to kill as many ‘blasts’ as possible using intense drug treatments. Other treatment for AML may be considered, such as radiotherapy or a stem cell transplant.
As the time from diagnosis to initiating treatment can be quite sudden, this can often be upsetting and confusing for people who are affected. In the UK there are several patient support services for coping with AML. Below are external links to organisations who can offer further support.
When someone receives an AML diagnosis, it is also likely to have an impact on family, friends and carers too and it can be an uncertain and worrying time for everyone. Leukaemia Care, Acute Leukaemia Advocates Network (ALAN) and Novartis have jointly developed the following video on a carer’s perspective of AML, which may support you to understand what AML is, what to expect and how to better manage the journey ahead. The external organizations listed above also have useful information for everyone affected.
At Novartis, we’re committed to helping to improve the quality of life of patients with AML. We support innovative scientific research, and have a long heritage working in haematalogical conditions. We work with both patient advocacy groups and healthcare professionals to provide patients with up-to-date information about advances in the treatment of AML.