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Understanding AML

What is acute myeloid leukemia?

Updated April 17, 2024

Acute myeloid leukemia is a rare aggressive cancer of the blood and bone marrow and is the most common form of acute leukemia in adults.

In healthy bone marrow, stem cells (immature cells) go on to form all of the blood cells we need to function normally. Blood stem cells can mature into more specified myeloid or lymphoid stem cells. A myeloid stem cell can then give rise to three different types of mature blood cell. These include

  • red blood cells – give blood its red color and are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body;
  • white blood cells – fight infections and disease; and
  • platelets – help the blood to clot and prevent excessive bleeding.

In patients with acute myeloid leukemia, one or more of these blood cell types do not develop as they should, which is due to certain changes in genetic material (DNA), known as genetic abnormalities. These abnormal cells are called leukemia cells and lack normal functionality. The leukemia cells then multiply, filling up the bone marrow and spilling into the blood, where they can spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, skin, spleen, and gums. As a result, the production of normal blood cells is affected, and the bone marrow cannot make enough healthy blood cells.

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What is acute myeloid leukemia?Causes & symptomsDiagnosisTypesTreatmentPrognosisRemissionRelapseCOVID-19Caregivers

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Hear from Dorcas about her experience of caring for someone with acute myeloid leukemia.

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