Acute myeloid leukemia or AML is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. Another name for it is acute nonlymphocytic leukemia. According to the Cleveland Clinic, AML is the most common acute leukemia type in adults.
AML is a type of leukemia. The term “leukemia” refers to cancers of the blood cells and bone marrow. Doctors call AML “acute” because the condition can progress rapidly.
The word myeloid or myelogenous refers to the cell type it affects. Myeloid cells are precursors to other blood cells. Usually these cells go on to develop into red blood cells, platelets, and special types of white cells. But in AML, they aren’t able to develop normally.
When a person has AML, their myeloid cells mutate and form leukemic blasts. These cells don’t function as normal cells do. They can keep the body from making normal, healthy cells. Eventually, a person will start to lack red blood cells that carry oxygen, platelets that prevent easy bleeding, and white blood cells that protect the body from diseases. That’s because their body is too busy making the leukemic blast cells. The result can be deadly.
For many people, AML is a treatable disease. Advancements in cancer treatments and doctors’ understanding of the disease mean that more and more people survive the condition each year.
Ever year doctors diagnose an estimated 20,000 people in the United States with AML. An estimated 10,000 deaths occur on a yearly basis because of the disease. However, this number is for all people with AML, not just the people diagnosed in a year.
Most people with AML receive chemotherapy treatments. These are medicines that kill rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. In patients younger than 60, roughly 70 to 80 percent will go into remission after “induction” (first round) of chemo. Remission means a person doesn’t have symptoms of the disease and their blood cell counts are in a normal range.
Those older than age 60 don’t typically respond to treatment as well. Patients older than 60 also have a higher rate of dying during treatments. Some people who go into remission stay in remission. Still for many AML can return over time
The five-year overall survival rate for AML is 26 percent. This means that of the thousands of people living with AML, an estimated 26 percent are still living five years after their diagnosis. For lower risk AML groups, the five-year-survival-rate is 65 percent.
Different types of AML exist. Doctors often classify them by their cell mutations. Some cell mutation types are known to be more responsive to treatments. Examples include mutated CEBPA and inv(16) CBFB-MYH11 cells.
Some cell mutations can be very treatment-resistant. Examples include del(5q) and inv(3) RPN1-EVI1. Your oncologist will tell you what type or types of cell mutation you may have.
The outlook and prognosis for AML varies widely. Doctors take into account many factors when giving someone a prognosis.
Examples of these factors include:
Age can be a major factor in determining AML treatment response. Doctors know that survival rates for those diagnosed with AML is more promising for people who are under the age of 60.
This could be for a number of reasons. Some people older than the age of 60 may not be in good health. This can make it difficult for their bodies to handle the strong chemotherapy medications and other cancer treatments, associated with AML.
As mentioned earlier, several AML types exist. They’re based on the kind of leukemic cells present in the blood and bone marrow. Some AML types are associated with a better survival outlook than others. Your doctor should discuss the type of cells and genetic changes these cells have with you.
Response to treatment
Sometimes people respond better to treatments than others. If a person receives chemotherapy treatments and their cancer doesn’t come back within five years, they’re usually considered cured. If a person’s cancer comes back or doesn’t respond to treatments at all, their treatment outcome isn’t as favorable.
A prognosis or survival outlook is based on a number of factors. Much of it is based on the outcomes and analysis of your of blood tests, imaging studies, cerebrospinal fluid examinations, and bone marrow biopsies. Some people with a poor prognosis live many more years than a doctor predicts while others may not live as long.
Coping and support
Regardless of prognosis, an AML diagnosis can create emotions of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. You may be unsure where to turn or seek support. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this diagnosis and treatment.
Ask questions: It’s important that you understand your condition. If there’s something you’re uncertain of regarding your diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis, ask your doctor. Examples of questions to ask could include “What are my treatment options?” and “What can I do to prevent AML from coming back?”
Find organizations that provide support: Organizations such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) offer a number of supportive services. These include arranging rides to treatment and helping you find assistive personnel, such as dietitians or social workers.
Join a support group: Support groups are an excellent way to meet individuals who are going through similar emotions as you. Seeing the successes and mindsets of others can help you know you aren’t alone. In addition to resources such as the ACS and LLS, your oncologist or local hospital may offer support groups.
Reach out to friends and family: Many friends and family will want to help. Let them deliver meals or simply listen to your concerns. Opening up to others can help you maintain a positive frame of mind.
Find enjoyable ways to relieve stress: There are many outlets for you to relieve stress and concern in your life. Meditation or keeping a journal or blog are a few examples. Plus they rarely cost very little to take on and keep up. Finding an outlet that you especially enjoy can do wonders for your mind and spirit.
A cancer diagnosis isn’t a death sentence. It does present the opportunity for you to grow nearer to those closest to you and evaluate how you can live a life you enjoy.