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Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a blood cancer more common in people aged over 65.

AML can be treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, targeted therapies and stem cell transplants.

On this page:

What is acute myeloid leukemia (AML)?

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing type of leukemia (cancer of the blood) which affects myeloid white blood cells. 
The cancer stops the white blood cells working properly. This can cause problems with fighting infection, carrying oxygen and bleeding. 

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer that affects white blood cells. To understand leukemia it helps to understand a bit about how blood cells are made.

Blood cells

New cells are made in your bone marrow. This is the soft spongy tissue that fills the centre of some of your bones. All blood cells come from a cell known as a stem cell. They start out as immature cells (blast cells) and then they develop into different types of mature blood cells.
 

  • Lymphoid stem cells develop into lymphocytes. These white blood cells fight infection. They are further divided into T cells and B cells, depending on how they fight infection.
  • Myeloid stem cells go on to form red blood cells, platelets and other types of white cells.
Leukemia

As blood cells develop, they move out of the bone marrow and into your bloodstream, where they do different jobs

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the tissues in your body.
  • White blood cells are involved in fighting infection.
  • Platelets are involved in blood clotting.

Your body is constantly producing enough cells to keep this process going. 

About leukemia 

Blood cancers happen when something goes wrong with the development of blood cells in your bone marrow.

With leukemia, blast cells are produced but they don’t develop properly. Instead the immature cells build up in your bone marrow and the number of healthy cells is reduced. You get sick because there aren’t enough healthy blood cells to do their jobs in the body. 

Types of leukemia

There are four main types of leukemia.

  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Their names come from the type of cell affected by the leukemia (myeloid blast cells or lymphoid blast cells) and from how quickly they develop (chronic or acute).

  • Chronic leukemia: The disease develops slowly, usually over months or years.
  • Acute leukemia: The leukemia develops very quickly over days and weeks.

More information about AML treatment

Treatment for AML includes chemotherapy, targeted therapies and stem cell transplants. For more information about treatments for AML, visit our treatment page. For specific treatment information use the links below.

Coping with AML treatment and side-effects

Online Community Support

Looking for support?

Our cancer support section contains information and advice on coping with cancer for diagnosed patients and their loved ones.

Publications about acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
Downloadable booklets and factsheets

For more information

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