Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells. Symptoms may include feeling tired, shortness of breath, easy bruising and bleeding, and increased risk of infection. Occasionally, spread may occur to the brain, skin, or gums. As an acute leukemia, AML progresses rapidly and is typically fatal within weeks or months if left untreated. Risk factors include smoking, previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy, myelodysplastic syndrome, and exposure to the chemical benzene. The underlying mechanism involves replacement of normal bone marrow with leukemia cells, which results in a drop in red blood cells, platelets, and normal white blood cells. Diagnosis is generally based on bone marrow aspiration and specific blood tests. AML has several subtypes for which treatments and outcomes may vary. Most signs and symptoms of AML are caused by the replacement of normal blood cells with leukemic cells. A lack of normal white blood cell production makes people more susceptible to infections; while the leukemic cells themselves are derived from white blood cell precursors, they have no infection-fighting capacity.
The early signs of AML are often vague and nonspecific, and may be similar to those of influenza or other common illnesses. Some generalized symptoms include fever, fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, shortness of breath, anemia, easy bruising or bleeding, petechiae (flat, pin-head sized spots under the skin caused by bleeding), bone and joint pain, and persistent or frequent infections. Enlargement of the spleen may occur in AML, but it is typically mild and asymptomatic. Lymph node swelling is rare in AML, in contrast to acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The skin is involved about 10% of the time in the form of leukemia cutis. Rarely, Sweet's syndrome, a paraneoplastic inflammation of the skin, can occur with AML. Some people with AML may experience swelling of the gums because of infiltration of leukemic cells into the gum tissue. Rarely, the first sign of leukemia may be the development of a solid leukemic mass or tumor outside of the bone marrow, called a chloroma. Occasionally, a person may show no symptoms, and the leukemia may be discovered incidentally during a routine blood test.
The first clue to a diagnosis of AML is typically an abnormal result on a complete blood count. While an excess of abnormal white blood cells (leukocytosis) is a common finding with the leukemia, and leukemic blasts are sometimes seen, AML can also present with isolated decreases in platelets, red blood cells, or even with a low white blood cell count (leukopenia). While a presumptive diagnosis of AML can be made by examination of the peripheral blood smear when there are circulating leukemic blasts, a definitive diagnosis usually requires an adequate bone marrow aspiration and biopsy as well as ruling out pernicious anemia (Vitamin B12 deficiency), folic acid deficiency and copper deficiency. Marrow or blood is examined under light microscopy, as well as flow cytometry, to diagnose the presence of leukemia, to differentiate AML from other types of leukemia (e.g. acute lymphoblastic leukemia – ALL), and to classify the subtype of disease. A sample of marrow or blood is typically also tested for chromosomal abnormalities by routine cytogenetics or fluorescent in situ hybridization. Genetic studies may also be performed to look for specific mutations in genes such as FLT3, nucleophosmin, and KIT, which may influence the outcome of the disease. Cytochemical stains on blood and bone marrow smears are helpful in the distinction of AML from ALL, and in subclassification of AML. The combination of a myeloperoxidase or Sudan black stain and a nonspecific esterase stain will provide the desired information in most cases.
First-line treatment of AML consists primarily of chemotherapy, and is divided into two phases: induction and postremission (or consolidation) therapy. The goal of induction therapy is to achieve a complete remission by reducing the number of leukemic cells to an undetectable level; the goal of consolidation therapy is to eliminate any residual undetectable disease and achieve a cure. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is usually considered if induction chemotherapy fails or after a person relapses, although transplantation is also sometimes used as front-line therapy for people with high-risk disease. Efforts to use tyrosine kinase inhibitors in AML continue. All FAB subtypes except M3 are usually given induction chemotherapy with cytarabine (ara-C) and an anthracycline (most often daunorubicin). This induction chemotherapy regimen is known as "7+3" (or "3+7"), because the cytarabine is given as a continuous IV infusion for seven consecutive days while the anthracycline is given for three consecutive days as an IV push. Up to 70% of people with AML will achieve a remission with this protocol.
Journal of Clinical Oncology and Cancer Research,