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What Causes Acute Myeloid Leukemia & What Are Its Treatment Options?

About Acute Myeloid Leukemia:

Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a variant of blood cancer or leukemia which can affect both children and adults alike. It is one of those forms of cancer that progresses very rapidly resulting in a fast decline of health. The symptoms of Acute Myeloid Leukemia come on abruptly while chronic leukemia has a gradual symptom onset. In Acute Myeloid Leukemia, there are numerous white blood cells found in the blood and the bone marrow. In no time, the count of the white blood cells increase to such an extent that they tend to outnumber the red blood cells.[2]

The symptoms of Acute Myeloid Leukemia tend to become more severe in double quick time as more and more space is occupied by white blood cells in the blood. In spite of all the developments made in the field of Acute Myeloid Leukemia with regard to new therapies and drugs and increased understanding the medical condition the overall prognosis remains unchanged for more than 30 years now.[1]

Majority of the people with Acute Myeloid Leukemia tend to relapse after going into remission and finally succumb to this devastating disease. Stem cell transplantation is by far the most preferred cure for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, especially in people with high risk of the disease. This article highlights some of the potential causes and the treatment options available for Acute Myeloid Leukemia.[1]

What Causes Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

What Causes Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

What exactly causes bone marrow cells to become leukemic is still a matter of ongoing research and is not clearly understood. However, from whatever research that has been done the potential causes for this condition is believed to be excessive exposure to chemical called benzene and radiation.[2]

People working in nuclear plants are often exposed to high levels of radiation. This puts them at risk for developing Acute Myeloid Leukemia. This condition is also seen in pilots as they fly up to as high as 35,000 feet above the sea and are much closer to the sun thereby being exposed to radiation. People working in chemical plants can also get exposed to benzene. This chemical forms a major part of gasoline and crude oil necessary for fuel production.[2]

Certain genetic conditions like Fanconi anemia also puts an individual at risk for developing Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Additionally, there are certain chemotherapy drugs which are known to increase the risk of Acute Myeloid Leukemia in people.[2]

What Are The Treatment Options for Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

Similar to all other forms of cancer, radiation and chemotherapy forms the frontline treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia where chemotherapy is the primary treatment. Since further exposure to radiation can make the patient worse, the patient is subjected to less of radiation therapy. In some cases, bone marrow transplantation has shown to be of benefit in treating Acute Myeloid Leukemia.[2]

This condition is treated in two stages. The first stage involves the induction therapy and the second is known as continuation therapy. During induction therapy, the patient is given chemotherapy drugs aggressively to include idarubicin or thioguanine. The aim is to destroy the malignant cells before they become too aggressive. The medications are given intravenously but are also available to be taken orally.[2]

However, these drugs have severe side effect profile to include nausea, hair loss, diarrhea, or infections. Thus it is recommended to admit the patient to the hospital for chemotherapy to control the side effects. Post chemotherapy, patients tend to have a weak immune system which puts them at risk for various infections and other illnesses. For this, the physician may prescribe antibiotics as well.[2]

A patient is said to be in remission where there are no signs of any leukemia seen on repeated tests even though there may be still some malignant cells left in the body.

Once the patient is said to be in remission, the second phase of treatment begins. The second phase involves destroying any remaining cancer cells in the body. This again involves giving the patient high dosages of chemotherapy drugs.[2]

The patient may be given a combination of cyclophosphamide, etoposide, or idarubicin. Once the patient goes through this cycle of chemotherapy drugs, he is said to be discharged in remission. The prognosis of the patient depends on the overall age and health status of the patient along with the chances of the cancer coming back which is relatively high.[2]

Recurrence of the cancer normally occurs during chemotherapy treatment or shortly after completion of the course. It is extremely rare for the disease to occur after being in remission for a long period of time. Close monitoring and checkups continue for several years to look for any signs of recurrence of cancer or any other side effects from the medications given for treatment.[2]

If left untreated the maximum life expectancy of an individual with Acute Myeloid Leukemia is around one year. The treatment however for a condition like Acute Myeloid Leukemia is very costly and before embarking for treatment it should be ensured that the condition is covered under insurance. Estimated cost of treatment for this condition is roughly around $50,000.[2]


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 12, 2021

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