Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a blood cancer that begins in your bone marrow. It’s the most prevalent form of fast-growing (acute) leukemia in adults, representing an estimated 80 percent of cases.
While AML may affect men and women of all ages, it’s most common in men 65 years and older. AML may progress rapidly, and it’s also more difficult to treat than other types of leukemia.
As a blood and bone marrow cancer, AML affects the way your red and white blood cells are created, as well as your platelets. These can result in the following symptoms seen in both adult and childhood AML.
Excessive fatigue and weakness is one of the first signs of leukemia that appears in all subtypes, including AML. In AML, fatigue may occur as the result of reduced red blood cells (anemia).
But fatigue is also considered a general symptom — it’s not specific to leukemia only.
If you’re only feeling fatigue, especially if it’s temporary or unaccompanied by other symptoms, you may be physically exhausted or affected by other conditions.
See a doctor if your fatigue:
- does not go away with rest or other changes in diet and lifestyle
- lasts for more than a few days or weeks without letting up
- happens alongside other disruptive symptoms
Also caused by anemia, dizziness as well as lightheadedness may accompany fatigue and weakness.
A loss of red blood cells from anemia means that there’s also a shortage of oxygen in your cells. This is the most likely cause of these early-stage AML symptoms.
Another possible early-stage AML symptom is unintentional weight loss. This tends to occur as a result of a loss of appetite.
Like fatigue, unintentional weight loss is considered a general symptom. Weight loss may be caused by leukemia, but it’s also related to other conditions, as well as diet and lifestyle changes.
Fever and night sweats are possible in early stages of AML. You may experience fever at any time of day as well as drenching sweats at night.
As with fatigue and unintentional weight loss, these are also considered more general symptoms that are seen in leukemia as well as other health conditions.
Fever may also show up in conjunction with infections related to AML, even if you haven’t previously experienced fever as a symptom.
Anemia caused by early-stage AML may also result in paler than normal skin.
You may also find that you’re feeling more cold than normal or are perhaps more sensitive to cooler temperatures.
As AML progresses, your bone marrow may produce fewer blood platelets. This is called thrombocytopenia.
Blood platelets are responsible for blood clotting. Without them, you may notice signs of bleeding, such as:
- bruising easily
- red or purple spots on your skin (petechiae)
- cuts and wounds that take longer to stop bleeding than normal
- bleeding gums
- heavy menstruation (menorrhagia)
- frequent nosebleeds
- blood in your urine or stools
Frequent or recurring infections are other signs of AML progression.
As this cancer progresses, you develop abnormal white blood cells that can result in a lower number of healthy infection-fighting white blood cells known as neutrophils — a condition called leukopenia.
A reduced number of infection-fighting neutrophils (neutropenia) can also lead to infections caused by progressing AML.
Shortness of breath may be experienced in different stages of AML. In early stages, shortness of breath may be caused by anemia.
As the cancer progresses, it can cause a blood clot in the lung called pulmonary embolism. This serious complication may also result in shortness of breath and other symptoms, such as:
- pain in your chest as well as your neck, shoulders, arms, and jaw
- irregular heartbeat
- fast heart rate
- feeling restless
- spitting up blood
- weak pulse
As AML progresses, leukemia cells can spread and replicate in number, worsening cases of anemia.
This may lead to a condition called leukostasis that can cause stroke-like symptoms, such as:
- severe headache
- facial numbness
- visual disturbances
- slurred speech
- breathing difficulties
- weakness on one side of your body
Leukostasis is a medical emergency
While not as common, swelling in the abdominal area may indicate that leukemia cells have spread and built up in your spleen and liver.
In some cases, this swelling can go unnoticed until detected by a doctor during a physical exam. See a doctor as soon as you can if you notice any abnormal swelling that isn’t a result of any diet or lifestyle changes.
Bleeding gums may be a sign of thrombocytopenia from AML.
Severe stages of AML may cause the cancer to spread to your gums. This can lead to other symptoms, such as pain and swelling.
If you notice any skin rashes or lumps in your skin along with other symptoms of AML, this could indicate that AML has spread.
In later stages, AML can sometimes spread to your skin, causing tumor-like cells called sarcomas.
Skin bumps or rashes are seen in about 10 percent of AML cases.
Leukemia cells may also spread to your joints and bones.
As they build up in these areas, you may experience joint and bone pain. In these cases, this symptom typically occurs in later stages of AML.
There are many causes of headaches aside from AML. In cases of AML, frequent headaches may be an early or mild sign caused by anemia.
Sometimes, AML can spread to your lymph nodes and cause them to enlarge. You may feel small bean-sized lumps underneath your skin in your neck, armpits, or groin area.
This severe symptom
Some of the symptoms of AML may be related to other conditions. But it’s important to make an appointment right away if you have any unusual symptoms that aren’t going away.
You should also talk with a doctor if any symptoms are getting worse. AML progresses rapidly, making early detection crucial.
Chemotherapy is considered the primary treatment method for AML.
Chemotherapy works by using anti-cancer drugs to get rid of leukemia cells in your body. Chemotherapy may sometimes be used in conjunction with bone marrow or stem cell transplants to help improve your outlook.
Other possible treatments for AML include:
- targeted therapy drugs
- growth factors to stimulate healthy white blood cell growth
If you experience any possible AML symptoms like those listed above, call a doctor right away and get immediate medical help.
AML is a progressively rapid form of leukemia, so early diagnosis and treatment are important to your overall prognosis. At later stages of AML, about 50 percent of people with AML may relapse, even with treatment.
Depending on the stage of cancer and your age, a doctor may recommend trying investigational therapies, such as targeted therapy combinations. Talk with a doctor about all your options for the best possible outcome.