Acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood. It’s known by a variety of names, including acute myelogenous leukemia and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia. AML is one of the most common leukemia types in adults.

Doctors call AMLacute” because the condition can progress rapidly. The term “leukemia” refers to cancers of the bone marrow and blood cells. 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 (RBCs), platelets, and special types of white blood cells (WBCs). 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 RBCs that carry oxygen, platelets that prevent easy bleeding, and WBCs that protect the body from diseases. That’s because their body is too busy making the leukemic blast cells.

The result can be deadly. However, 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.

Every year, doctors diagnose an estimated 20,240 cases of AML in the United States. An estimated 11,400 deaths occur annually because of the disease.

Most people with AML receive chemotherapy treatments. These medications rapidly kill dividing cells, such as cancer cells. Chemotherapy can lead to remission, which means a person doesn’t have symptoms of the disease and their blood cell counts are in a normal range.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), around 90 percent of people with an AML type known as acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) will go into remission after “induction” (first round) of chemo. For most other types of AML, the remission rate is around 67 percent.

People older than age 60 don’t typically respond to treatment as well, with about half of them going into remission after induction.

Some people who go into remission stay in remission. Still, for many, AML can return over time.

The 5-year overall survival rate for AML is 29.5 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This means that an estimated 29.5 percent of people in America living with AML are still living 5 years after their diagnosis.

Children with AML

In general, children with AML are seen as lower risk than adults. Around 85 to 90 percent of children with AML will go into remission after induction therapy. AML will return in some cases.

The 5-year-survival-rate for children with AML is 65 to 70 percent.

The outlook and prognosis for acute myeloid leukemia varies widely. Doctors consider many factors when giving someone a prognosis, such as the person’s age or type of AML.

Much of the outlook is based on the outcomes and analysis of:

Some people with a poor prognosis live many more years than a doctor predicts, while others may not live as long.

The median age of a person diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia is 68 years old.

Age can be a major factor in determining AML treatment response. Doctors know that survival rates for those diagnosed with AML are more promising for people under age 60.

This could be for a number of reasons. Some people older than 60 may have chronic conditions or other health issues. This can make it difficult for their bodies to handle the strong chemotherapy medications and other cancer treatments associated with acute myeloid leukemia.

Moreover, many older adults with AML don’t receive treatment for the condition.

A 2018 study found that 25 percent of adults diagnosed with AML did not get chemotherapy. Researchers noted that older age and having other major health problems decreased the likelihood of receiving chemo, as well as being female and having a lower income status. A 2015 study found that only 40 percent of people ages 66 and up received chemotherapy within 3 months of diagnosis.

Research published in 2020 suggests that despite the differences in treatment response among different age groups (or cohorts), overall 5-year survival rates are improving for all groups. However, researchers note that those rates drop off significantly as people with the condition get older.

Age5-year survival rate
Children under the age of 1465 to 70 percent
Ages 15 to 3452 percent
Ages 35 to 5437 percent
Ages 55 to 6420 percent
Ages 65 to 749 percent

Doctors often classify the different subtypes of AML, because the subtype affects a person’s health outlook and the best course of treatment. This is because AML does not follow the stages of other cancers with tumors. The various types may require different forms of treatment and may affect the potential survival rate.

According to the French-American-British classification of AML, subtypes include:

  • M0. Undifferentiated acute myeloblastic leukemia
  • M1. Acute myeloblastic leukemia with minimal maturation
  • M2. Acute myeloblastic leukemia with maturation
  • M3. Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL)
  • M4. Acute myelomonocytic leukemia
  • M4 eos. Acute myelomonocytic leukemia with eosinophilia
  • M5. Acute monocytic leukemia
  • M6. Acute erythroid leukemia
  • M7. Acute megakaryoblastic leukemia

Your oncologist will tell you what subtype you have.

Treatment works better for some people than others. If a person receives chemotherapy treatments and their cancer doesn’t come back within 5 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.

Some people also cannot tolerate treatment and thus do not get the full benefit if it’s stopped early or has to be modified. Treatment depends on the person’s age and overall health, which also affects survival.

Regardless of prognosis, an AML diagnosis can create emotions of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. You may be unsure where to turn or seek support.

A cancer diagnosis presents the opportunity for you to grow nearer to those closest to you and evaluate how you can live a life you enjoy.

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 like the American Cancer Society (ACS) 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 people 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 like the ACS and LLS, your oncologist or local hospital may offer support groups.

Reach out to friends and family

Many friends and family members will want to help. Let them deliver meals through a service such as Meal Train 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 potential outlets for you to relieve stress and concern in your life. Meditation or keeping a journal or blog are a few examples. Additionally, they cost very little to take on and keep up.

Finding an outlet that you especially enjoy can do wonders for your mind and spirit.

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