Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a progressive type of cancer that affects your bone marrow and blood cells.

Early detection and treatment are important to help increase the chances of survival from this cancer. See a doctor right away if you notice any possible early symptoms. These include:

  • recurring infections
  • chronic fever
  • unusual bleeding

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 30 percent of people diagnosed with AML survive 5 years or longer.

When receiving an AML diagnosis, it’s also important to discuss information about stages and prognosis with your doctor. Read on to learn some of the facts that can help you start this conversation.

AML affects the bone marrow’s ability to produce normal-functioning white and red blood cells, as well as blood platelets. Instead, the bone marrow produces blast cells, which aren’t completely formed.

Your oncologist will also “stage” your AML based on overall blood cell counts and whether there are leukemia cells in vital organs, such as the liver. This is different than stages for other cancers, which are typically based on the size of tumors and their spread (metastasis).

In some cases, AML is often not detected until it has spread to organs.

Overall staging of this cancer depends on:

  • how much it has spread
  • the amount of leukemia cells in the body
  • how many healthy blood cells you have

Below are the nine stages of AML:

  • M0: undifferentiated AML
  • M1: myeloblastic leukemia with minimal maturation (bone marrow cells show some signs of differentiation with minimal maturation)
  • M2: myeloblastic leukemia with maturation (bone marrow cells show varying amounts of maturation)
  • M3: promyelocytic leukemia
  • M4: myelomonocytic leukemia
  • M4 eos: myelomonocytic leukemia with eosinophilia
  • M5: monocytic leukemia
  • M6: erythroid leukemia
  • M7: megakaryoblastic leukemia

These stages (also known as subtypes) affect cells that form the bone marrow in the following manner:

  • M0—M5: starts in white blood cells
  • M6: begins in red blood cells
  • M7: affects blood platelets

AML tends to progress rapidly. Recovery may depend on the subtype, as well as the following factors:

  • being over age 60
  • having a prior history of blood disorders
  • a white blood cell count measuring 100,000/mm3 or more
  • spread of the cancer to your spleen, liver, or other organs
  • spread of the cancer to your brain or spinal cord
  • chromosome abnormalities in cells
  • abnormal genes in leukemia cells
  • blood infections

Also, recovery from AML may be more challenging if your case is the result of treatment for a separate cancer.

The odds of recovery are greater depending on how the body responds to treatment early on. Cases of “active disease” soon after treatment or during a relapse may present a more challenging prognosis. The term active disease means that the leukemia is still present.

There’s no definitive way to determine a person’s lifespan after being diagnosed with AML.

While about 30 percent of people with AML survive at least 5 years, the exact estimated lifespan after being diagnosed with AML depends on a variety of factors. These include:

  • how aggressive the cancer is upon diagnosis
  • your age
  • your overall response to treatment

AML is the most common acute leukemia, and the National Organization for Rare Disorders estimates that at least half of people who receive a diagnosis are 65 years old or more.

Younger people under age 60 who have AML may be more responsive to early treatment and achieve remission, according to the American Cancer Society.

Symptoms of the final stages of AML are similar to end-stage symptoms of all types of leukemia. These may include:

  • cool, dry skin
  • slow or labored breathing
  • blurry vision
  • decreased urination or incontinence
  • restlessness or involuntary muscle movements
  • decreased movements or weakness
  • loss of appetite and decreased fluid intake
  • increased drowsiness and sleepiness
  • changes in heart rate
  • signs of bleeding, such as under the skin (petechiae) or from the nose
  • pain
  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness

The exact prognosis regarding the final stages of AML depends on any related complications. For example, one 2015 study of people over age 60 with this cancer found an increased risk of bleeding and infections resulting in hospitalization, rather than hospice care.

Another 2015 study showed that most people in the final stages of AML are hospitalized. The chances of being at home were increased during active or relapse stages, in which palliative care was used. Researchers also noted that fewer people were in hospice during AML end stages.

While AML can progress rapidly, an early diagnosis — followed by aggressive treatment — may help you live as long as possible.

Despite treatment, there are certain factors that can increase the risk of reaching the end stages of AML. These include older age, cancer subtype, and whether the cancer has spread to vital organs.

It’s important to discuss all aspects of AML with your doctor, including the subtype and treatment options, so you can make informed decisions to help prolong your life.

Working through a terminal AML prognosis can be difficult, and social-emotional support may be more important than ever at this stage.

There are a variety of in-person and online leukemia support groups available for both patients and their loved ones. These groups provide opportunities to connect with others who may be going through similar experiences.

Consider the following resources to aid in your search: