Leukemia is a type of cancer that develops in the bone marrow. With acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloid cells that are precursors to blood cells, including: Myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell) that fight infectionRed blood cells that carry oxygenPlatelets that make blood clots and stop bleeding in cuts and bruises
The leukemia cells do not function normally. They cannot do what normal blood cells do, like fight infections. The abnormal cells also overgrow the bone marrow, forcing normal cells out. Without normal cells,
and bleeding problems develop. They also cannot fight infections properly.
White Blood Cells
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. The term cancer refers to malignant growth of cells or tissue. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to the blood and other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but it is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
AML is more common in those of Hispanic descent. Other factors that may increase your child's risk of AML include:
Having a sibling, especially an identical twin, who develops leukemia
Having a genetic condition, such as
radiationExposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, a chemical used in the cleaning and manufacturing industries
History of other blood disorders, such as
polycythemia vera, essential thrombocytosis,
AML may cause: FeverFrequent infectionsShortness of breathPaleness (a sign of anemia)Easy bruising or bleedingPetechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)Weakness, fatigueLoss of appetite, weight lossBone and joint painPainless lumps in the neck, underarms, stomach, or groinBleeding gums
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will check for swelling of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes.
Test to assess bodily tissues or other structures include: Blood testsBone marrow biopsy
Lumbar punctureCytogenetic analysisImmunophenotyping
Imaging tests are used to evaluate bodily structures. These may include: UltrasoundChest x-rayCT scanMRI scan
Gallium scan and
Once AML is identified, it can be classified. These subtypes are based on the type of cell from which leukemia developed. This is important because it can help the doctor make a prognosis and develop a treatment plan.
Bone Marrow Biopsy
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Talk with the doctor about the best plan for your child. Treatment of AML usually involves 2 phases: Remission induction therapy—to kill leukemia cellsConsolidation—additional chemotherapy to kill any remaining leukemia cells that could grow and cause a relapseMaintenance therapy—not needed for children with AML
Treatment may include: Chemotherapy—usually with multiple medications given into a vein and the spinal column
radiation therapy—targets a certain part of the body
Stem cell transplant—to replace the affected bone marrow with healthy bone marrow
after complete destruction with treatment in children without complete remissionwith intermediate-risk diseasewith poor-risk disease or unable to tolerate chemotherapyOther drug therapy may be used to kill leukemia cells, stop them from dividing, or help them mature into white blood cellsBiological therapy—involves using medicine or substances made by the body to increase or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancerAntibiotics to treat and prevent infectionsMedications to treat anemia and treatment side effects, such as like nausea and vomiting
There are no current guidelines to prevent AML because the cause is unknown.
Childhood leukemia. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003095-pdf.pdf. Updated April 17 2015. Accessed November 9, 2015.
Leukemia. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at:
http://www.lls.org/leukemia. Accessed November 9, 2015
Last reviewed November 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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