Leukemia is a type of cancer that develops in the bone marrow. With acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloid cells that are precursors to blood cells, including: Myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell) that fight infectionRed blood cells that carry oxygenPlatelets that make blood clots and stop bleeding in cuts and bruises
The leukemia cells do not function normally. They cannot do what normal blood cells do, like fight infections. The abnormal cells also overgrow the bone marrow, forcing normal cells out. Without normal cells,
and bleeding problems develop. They also cannot fight infections properly.
Leukemia is caused by genes in the bone marrow cells not working properly.
Risk factors include:
Having a sibling, especially an identical twin, who develops leukemia
Having a genetic condition (eg,
radiationExposure to certain chemicals (eg, benzene, a chemical used in the cleaning and manufacturing industries)
History of other blood disorders (eg,
, essential thrombocytosis,
myelodysplastic syndromeRace: Hispanic
Symptoms include: FeverFrequent infectionsShortness of breathPaleness (a sign of anemia)Easy bruising or bleedingPetechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)Weakness, fatigueLoss of appetite, weight lossBone and joint painPainless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach, or groinBleeding gums
These symptoms may be due to other conditions. If your child has any of these, talk to the doctor.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will check for swelling of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Tests may include: Blood tests—to check for changes in the number or appearance of different types of blood cellsBone marrow biopsy
or aspiration—removal of a sample of liquid bone marrow and a small piece of bone to test for cancer cells
(spinal tap)—removal of a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid to check for cancer cells
Cytogenetic analysis—a test to look for certain changes in the chromosomes (genetic material) of the lymphocytesImmunophenotyping—examination of the proteins on cell surfaces and the antibodies produced by the bodyChest x-ray
—x-rays of the chest that may detect signs of lung infection or cancer in the chest
—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
Gallium scan and
—injection of a radioactive chemical into the bloodstream to detect areas of cancer or infection
Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine masses and organs inside the body
Once AML is identified, it can be classified. These subtypes are based on the type of cell from which leukemia developed. This is important because it can help the doctor make a prognosis and develop a treatment plan.
Bone Marrow Biopsy
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Talk with the doctor about the best plan for your child. Treatment of AML usually involves two phases: Remission induction therapy—to kill leukemia cellsMaintenance therapy—to kill any remaining leukemia cells that could grow and cause a relapse
Treatment options include: ChemotherapyExternal beam radiation therapy—targets a certain part of the bodyStem cell transplant
—replaces the affected bone marrow with healthy bone marrow
Other drug therapy (eg, arsenic trioxide, All-trans retinoic acid [ATRA])—may be used to kill leukemia cells, stop them from dividing, or help them mature into white blood cellsBiological therapy—involves using medicine or substances made by the body to increase or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancerAntibiotics to treat and prevent infectionsMedicines to treat anemia and side effects (like nausea and vomiting)
There is no known way to prevent AML.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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