Acute Myeloid Leukemia – What is it?

Leukemia is fatal because of the fast proliferation of abnormal cells in the blood especially if left untreated. Sometimes the affected people simply think that they just have some kind of minor flu or infection. Late diagnosis will usually result in advanced stage of leukemia.

There are two types of leukemia: Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Among these two, AML type is more common, occuring mostly in the adult population. Men are the usual target of this type and the average age of individuals affected is 65. The cause of this type of leukemia is usually unknown but probable causes may be genetics and radiation exposure.

The general symptoms of AML includes frequent fever, weakness, breathlessness, unusual bleeding, bruises, fine dark red spots called purpura and weight loss. These symptoms rapidly develope within days and weeks. The patient will then develop aching joints because of the rapid production of the abnormal cells from the bone marrow. Some patients will not be able to walk if the cancer is progressing and undiagnosed. Patients need to visit a general physician for recommendations on what test to undergo and medications to take to alleviate the pain and slow the progression.

General practitioners will recommend hematologists for further screening and diagnosis. To confirm the disease, affected individuals will undergo lab tests such as complete blood count (CBC), immunophenotyping, bone marrow biopsy and cytogenesis. If progression is suspected, doctors may order for chest x-ray, lumbar puncture and ultrasound to determine if cancer cells have already spread to other organs and tissues in the body.

The best treatment for leukemia is Chemotherapy since it targets the blood. Chemo drugs will kill the cancer cells but it will also affect the healthy blood cells in the body and so the patient has to be isolated to prevent infection. The patients can easily catch any type of infection therefore careful medical considerations have to be observed to protect the patient due to immunosuppression. Another combative treatment used these days is stem cell or bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor, usually a sibling.

The physicians will decide if a patient is a good candidate for a certain treatment. The earlier diagnosis, the better for this type of cancer because it is life-threatening if not medicated and treated immediately. If one has a history of cancer in the family, it is important that he or she should undergo necessary tests to check if abnormal cells are beginning to develop.

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