Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)

AML is a rare type of cancer. It can affect people at any age but is more common in people over 65. Around 2,500 people are diagnosed with AML each year in the UK.

Normally, blood cells are made in the bone marrow in an orderly and controlled way. In people with AML, this process gets out of control and many abnormal leukaemia cells are made. These immature cells aren't able to develop into normal functioning blood cells.

In AML, too many early myeloid cells are made. In most types of AML, the leukaemia cells are immature white blood cells. In some less common types of AML, too many immature platelets or immature red blood cells are made.

The immature cells fill up the bone marrow, taking up space that's needed to make normal blood cells. Some leukaemia cells 'spill over' into the blood and circulate around the body in the bloodstream. These leukaemia cells don't mature, so don't work properly. This leads to an increased risk of infection, as well as symptoms such as anaemia and bruising caused by fewer healthy red blood cells and platelets being made.

Symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

Most symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) are due to the effects of the leukaemia cells in the bone marrow, which leave it unable to produce enough normal blood cells.

The main symptoms are:

  • looking pale and feeling tired and breathless, which is due to anaemia caused by a lack of red blood cells
  • having more infections than usual, because of a lack of healthy white blood cells
  • unusual bleeding caused by too few platelets - this may include bruising (bruises may appear without any apparent injury), heavy periods in women, bleeding gums, nosebleeds and blood spots or rashes on the skin (petechiae)
  • feeling generally unwell and run down
  • having a fever and sweats, which may be due to an infection or the leukaemia itself.

Other less common symptoms may be caused by a build-up of leukaemia cells in a particular area of the body. Your bones might ache, caused by the pressure from a build-up of immature cells in the bone marrow. You might also notice raised, bluish-purple areas under the skin due to leukaemia cells in the skin, or swollen gums caused by leukaemia cells in the gums.

Occasionally, a person has no symptoms and the leukaemia is discovered during a routine blood test.

Symptoms may appear over a few weeks, and people often feel ill quite quickly. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned here, you should have them checked by your doctor - but remember they are common to many illnesses other than leukaemia.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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