It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and testicles.

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is an uncommon type of cancer. Around 2,600 people are diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. AML can develop at any age, but it’s more common in people over the age of 60.

Risks and causes of Acute myeloid leukaemia

The precise causes of acute myeloid leukaemia are unknown, but there are a number of associated risk factors. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Being exposed to radiation
  • Exposure to benzene
  • Some types of chemotherapy drugs
  • Autoimmune conditions, such as:
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia
    • Ulcerative colitis
  • Blood disorders, such as:
    • Myelodysplastic syndrome
    • Myeloproliferative disorders such as polycythaemia rubra vera (PCV) and chronic myeloid leukaemia

Symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia

The symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia usually develop over a few weeks becoming more severe as the number of immature white blood cells (blast cells) in your blood increases. Symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia can include:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • breathlessness
  • Frequent infections
  • Unusual and frequent bruising or bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nosebleeds
  • Fever
  • Bone pain
  • Losing weight without trying to

If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.

How is acute myeloid leukaemia diagnosed?

our consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant for your individual symptoms. There are a variety of different tests used to diagnose AML, which include:

  • Blood test: to check for AML indicators such as a high number of abnormal white blood cells, or a very low blood count in the test sample
  • Bone marrow biopsy: a haematologist will take a small sample of bone marrow to examine under a microscope
  • Cytogenetic testing: involves identifying the genetic make-up of the cancerous cells

  • Immunophenotyping: a test to help identify the exact type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
  • CT scan: which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
  • X-ray: which is when low-level radiation is used to create an image of the body
  • Lumbar puncture: where a needle is used to extract a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds and protects your spine) from your back. The fluid is tested to determine whether leukaemia has reached your nervous system, and this test is carried out using local anaesthetic

Acute myeloid leukaemia treatment

AML is an aggressive condition that develops rapidly, so treatment will usually begin a few days after a diagnosis has been confirmed.

Patients with AML are treated by a team of different specialists, called a multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient.

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for AML. It’s used to kill as many leukaemia cells in your body as possible and reduce the risk of the condition coming back (relapsing).