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. Normally your blood stem cells develop into myeloid cells, which then become red blood cells, platelets and certain white blood cells (called neutrophils).
If you have AML, your myeloid cells can’t fully mature and they remain as young, immature cells called myeloblasts. These cells divide too quickly which can ‘clog up’ your bone marrow and stop other blood cells from doing their job properly too.
AML is ‘acute’ because it usually develops quickly, sometimes within a few days or weeks. There are different types of AML – your symptoms will depend on the type you have, the number of leukaemia cells in your body, and where they are.
AML can be classified into ‘high’, ‘standard’ and ‘low’ risk – but this only relates to the type of treatment you will be given, not to the chance of it working.
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
3,200 / year in the UK
584 in 2019
More common in people over 70
Chemotherapy and sometimes a stem cell transplant
AML symptoms develop quickly; treatment often starts straight away
If you have AML, it is likely that you’ll need to start treatment quickly after you’re diagnosed. You’ll normally be offered chemotherapy as your main treatment option, although this can vary because certain 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 stop the cancer coming back.
Most transplants for AML are allograft transplants – when stem cells are donated to you by someone else. It’s much rarer for AML to be treated with an autologous transplant – when doctors use your own stem cells. This is usually only considered if a stem cell donor cannot be found and your medical team decide it’s a better option than other non-curative treatments.
AML is the most common reason for having an allograft transplant in the UK.
‘I was getting really tired at work, almost falling asleep at the computer. I was taken for tests and blood transfusions. The doctor told me I had acute myeloid leukaemia and that I needed to go into hospital straight away to start treatment.’
Nigel had a stem cell transplant in 2013 to treat AML. Read his story here.
Many more patient stories are available in our Blogs section.
Information published: 09/02/21
Next review due: 09/02/24