Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Acute myelogenous leukemia

What is acute myelogenous leukemia?

Acute myelogenous leukemia, referred to as AML, is a cancer of the blood in which too many granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced in the bone marrow.

Normally, bone marrow cells mature into several different types of blood cells. Acute myelogenous leukemia affects the young blood cells (called blasts) that develop into a type of white blood cell(called granulocytes). The main function of granulocytes is to destroy bacteria. The blasts, which do not mature and become too numerous, remain in the bone marrow and blood. Acute leukemia can occur over a short period of days to weeks. Chromosome abnormalities (extra chromosomes and structural changes in the chromosome material) are present in the majority of ALL (acute lymphocytic leukemia) patients.

What are the symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia; however, each individual may experience symptoms differently:

  • Anemia
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Fever
  • Persistent weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Aches in bones and joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is acute myelogenous leukemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for acute myelogenous leukemia may include the following:

  • Additional blood tests and other evaluation procedures.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy – a procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the number, size and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.
  • Spinal tap/lumbar puncture – a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal (the area around the spinal cord). The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. Cerebral spinal fluid is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.