One type of cancer that involves the bone marrow and blood is called acute myeloid leukemia (AML), also referred to as acute myelogenous leukemia.

AML is the most common leukemia among adults, making up about 80 percent of cases. It occurs when immature blood cells called blast cells multiply rapidly, crowding out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow and blood. This leads to common leukemia symptoms such as anemia, infections, and easy bruising.

There isn’t one clear cause of AML. Even those with a diagnosis of this type of leukemia may not know the official cause. You may have multiple risk factors, but ultimately the buildup of genetic changes that cause AML occur more as we age and are outside our control.

Risk factors are things that can increase the likelihood of developing a disease or condition. Some risk factors are things you can control, like lifestyle behaviors, while others, like age or sex, you cannot. Having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean you will develop the disease, just that you may be at higher risk.

Risk factors for AML can include:

  • older age, as AML is more common as people get older
  • being male
  • smoking cigarettes
  • exposure to certain chemicals, including benzene
  • previous treatment with certain chemotherapy drugs
  • high dose radiation exposure
  • certain blood disorders
  • certain genetic syndromes
  • family history of AML

Most of these risk factors carry only a small risk and are things we cannot control. AML is not preventable, but you may reduce your risk by avoiding cigarettes.

In early AML, symptoms can be nonspecific. They are not often alarming because they are common symptoms of many other conditions, including the flu or general malaise.

Common early symptoms include:

Other symptoms that may arise as the disease progresses can include:

  • anemia, including weakness, feeling cold, and shortness of breath
  • recurring infections from low levels of white blood cells
  • easy bruising
  • bleeding gums
  • frequent or severe nosebleeds
  • weakness on one side of the body
  • bone or joint pain

Read more in-depth discussion about AML symptoms in this article.

Treatment for AML often starts very soon after diagnosis because of how fast the disease can progress.

Most people with AML receive chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is usually divided into two phases for AML: remission induction and consolidation. Many people will also require a bone marrow or stem cell transplant as part of their consolidation phase.

Your doctor will talk with you about the best options for you based on your medical history, the risk of recurrence, and other factors. There are wide variety of secondary treatment options for AML, both clinical and at-home.

As mentioned, AML is the most common type of leukemia in adults. In 2020, it was estimated that approximately 20,000 new cases of AML in the United States would occur that year, mostly in adults. Although it is a common leukemia in adults, it only makes up about 1 percent of all cancer cases.

The 5-year survival rate from 2011 to 2017 was 29.5 percent. Cure rates of AML have increased up to 15 percent in adults over age 60 and approximately 40 percent for those under 60.

If you have an AML diagnosis, it can feel scary or overwhelming. There is a lot of data and statistics about treatments, and there’s a lot of information to wade through. Research is constantly being done in the field, and advancements in cancer treatments are made all the time.

If you’re looking for a resource for support, check out:

Although there are various risk factors for AML, most cases are caused by changes in genes that occur naturally as we age. This is likely why many cases of AML tend to occur in older people.

Treatment for AML is typically chemotherapy or, less commonly, radiation or other drugs. The survival rate for AML has improved, thanks to recent breakthroughs and advancements.