Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a rare type of cancer. In 2020, only about 20,000 people in the United States received new diagnoses of AML. It can be diagnosed at any age, but it’s more commonly seen in adults.
AML can cause a wide range of symptoms throughout the body, including the skin. Multiple types of rashes can be caused by AML. Some are the result of the cancerous cells in your body, while others are caused by an infection.
Learn more about how AML can affect the skin, other common symptoms, treatments, and more.
- Petechiae. AML can make it difficult for your body to produce the platelets it needs to form clots and stop bleeding. This can cause blood to leak into your skin. The leaked blood can appear as tiny red dots called petechiae.
- Folliculitis. Folliculitis is an inflammation of your hair follicles that causes white bumps to form on your skin. It can be itchy and painful. People with AML are susceptible to folliculitis because their bodies don’t make enough of the white blood cells it needs to fight infection.
- Leukemia cutis. Leukemia cutis occurs in advanced AML stages, when cancerous white blood cells enter your skin tissue. The cancerous cells cause a rash that appears as firm red, brown, or purple bumps and bruiselike flat patches on your skin. The rash might bleed, but it is usually painless.
- Chloroma (myeloid sarcoma, granulocytic sarcoma). Chloromas are cancerous tumors that can form on multiple areas of your body, including your skin. When chloromas appear on the skin, they are normally raised and painless. They might have a green or purple appearance.
- Sweet’s syndrome. Sweet’s syndrome is an inflammatory condition that causes pink bumps and patches that look similar to bug bites to appear on your skin. People with AML don’t make the white blood cells needed to fight off this rash.
- Treatment reactions. Chemotherapy can cause painful rashes that look similar to acne to appear on your face, neck, chest, and back. AML medications can also cause a measleslike rash early in your treatment.
There are a few other ways that AML may show signs on your skin. For example, the lack of platelets in your blood that leads to petechiae can also cause large purple and red spots called purpura. For many people with AML, it can also lead to unexplained or easy bruising.
Inflammation and infection are also common in people with AML. This is because AML causes the body to overproduce white blood cells that don’t function normally. This can cause a skin condition called vasculitis. While it’s rare with AML, vasculitis is an inflammation of your blood vessels that can cause purple lesions that look like webs to appear on your skin. It can also cause small purple, brown, or red spots.
The treatment options for your AML rash depend on the type of rash. Some rashes can be addressed by continuing your other AML treatments, while other rashes might require their own treatment.
Rashes such as petechiae, leukemia cutis, and chloroma, along with skin conditions such as bruising, can be resolved through chemotherapy and other AML treatments. As your AML goes into remission, these rashes will go away.
However, some rashes will need additional treatments:
- Chemotherapy and medication rashes. You might be prescribed topical medication to help heal your chemotherapy or medication rash. The exact creams prescribed to you will depend on your skin and the severity of your rash. Options might include benzoyl peroxide, doxycycline, antihistamine creams, hydrocortisone creams, and retinoids.
- Folliculitis. Folliculitis can be the result of bacteria or fungus. You’ll be prescribed an antibiotic or antifungal medication to treat the rash. This might be a cream or an oral medication.
- Sweet’s syndrome. Sweet’s syndrome is normally treated with corticosteroids. You might use a cream corticosteroid or take oral medication.
- Vasculitis. While it’s rare in AML, vasculitis can be treated with immunosuppressive drugs that calm inflammation.
Leukemia cutis rashes that are bleeding, irritated, or otherwise causing discomfort can also be treated. However, this treatment needs to be done in addition to AML treatment to be effective. Options include:
- Topical creams. Corticosteroids or lidocaine creams can reduce irritation.
- Antimicrobial medications. Having open lesions on your skin can leave you vulnerable to infection. An antimicrobial medication can help prevent infections from occurring.
- Direct treatment. Some leukemia cutis lesions can be treated with targeted radiation or removed surgically.
AML can affect your skin in many ways. This often happens because your body overproduces white blood cells, reducing the ability of your bone marrow to make enough platelets, causing rashes, irritation, and bleeding under your skin.
Treatment for AML can also treat most rashes and skin conditions caused by AML. However, some rashes require separate treatment, such as antibiotics or corticosteroids.
Talk with your oncologist if you notice any rashes or other skin issues during your AML treatment.