Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) occurs in your bone marrow, when a type of blood cell called a ‘myeloid cell’ starts growing abnormally and in an uncontrolled way.
Acute myeloid leukaemia involves white blood cells. Normally these cells will develop into myeloid cells, which then become red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells (called neutrophils)
If you have AML, those cells don’t mature and stop developing at the level of very young, immature cells called myeloblasts. At the same time, these underdeveloped cells start producing too quickly. This stops your normal blood cells from growing properly.
AML is ‘acute’ because it usually develops quickly. There are different types of AML and the signs and symptoms you might have depend on the type you have, the number of leukaemia cells in your body, and where they are.
Acute myeloid leukaemia is a rare cancer:
If you have AML, it’s likely that you’ll need to start treatment quite quickly after you’re diagnosed. You’ll normally be offered chemotherapy as your main treatment option, although this varies and different types of AML are treated differently.
Normally after chemotherapy, your doctors will consider further treatment to stop the leukaemia coming back. This is where a stem cell or bone marrow transplant comes in. A high dose of chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant, may be the best way to try and stop the cancer coming back.
Most transplants for AML are allograft transplants – when your new stem cells are donated by someone else. It’s rarer for AML to be treated with an autologous transplant – when doctors use your own stem cells.
AML is the most common reason for having a stem cell transplant in the UK.
Harun had a stem cell transplant to treat his acute myeloid leukaemia when he was 23. Read his story here.