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Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a blood cancer more common in people aged over 65. Over 120 people are diagnosed with AML every year.

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

On this page:

What is acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)?

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a fast-growing type of leukaemia (cancer of the blood) which affects myeloid white blood cells.

This cancer affects the number of healthy cells in your blood. This can cause problems with fighting infection, carrying oxygen and bleeding. 

What is leukaemia?

Leukaemia is a cancer that affects white blood cells. To understand leukaemia 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) before developing 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.

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 different 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 leukaemia 

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

With leukaemia, 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. 

Chronic and acute leukaemia 

  • Chronic leukaemia: The disease develops slowly, usually over months or years.
  • Acute leukaemia: The leukaemia 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 leukaemia (AML)
Downloadable booklets and factsheets

For more information

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