Acute myeloid leukemia is a disease caused by a cancerous change in the development of neutrophils, a type of white blood cells that is produced in the bone marrow. Defective (leukemic) cells are multiplying, gradually generating a large number of leukemic cells that are still multiplying in the same manner.
As their number grows, the cells begin to spread to the bone marrow by hindering the production of not only normal neutrophils but also other cells that are produced in the bone marrow, including red blood cells and platelets.
Over time, leukemic neutrophils spill into the bloodstream where their numbers progressively grow and then attack various organs and tissues – especially the lymph glands, spleen and liver – which then increase in size.
The main symptoms are reduced resistance to infections (especially mouth and throat), ulcers on lips and mouth, increased tendency to bleeding and hematoma, and anemia characterized by paleness, fatigue, difficult breathing and throbbing of the heart.
The disease often starts abruptly and the symptoms appear after one to two weeks. They rarely occur gradually, within two to three months.
Acute myeloid leukemia is very rare. Annually, only 1 to 40 000 people die. Most patients are over 60 years old.
The rate of curing of this disease is low. If not treated, it can lead to death after several weeks. In some cases, even prior to treatment. However, modern methods of treatment provide good prospects as far as symptoms relieve, sometimes and for years.
What to do?
If you notice any of the symptoms described, you should contact your doctor immediately. After examination, your doctor will refer you to your blood test and bone marrow examination (biopsy). Additional blood tests may be required if acute myeloid leukemia is suspected.
As soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, the patient is received in the hospital and receives blood transfusion, including special platelet transfusions to prevent bleeding and hematoma. The basics of treatment are various combinations of drugs – primarily corticosteroids and high doses of antibiotics to mitigate the major symptoms.
The same leukemia is treated with cytostatics (anti-cancer drugs or neoplasms). These drugs destroy leukemia cells in the bone marrow, but (due to side effects) they also destroy many healthy cells. Since leukemia cells are destroyed in the bone marrow, it takes at least two weeks before the bone marrow begins to re-create healthy cells and enter the bloodstream.
This period of very small number of cells can be dangerous for the patient. If needed, the patient will be placed on the intensive care unit with special precautions to prevent infection and will receive additional transfusions of red blood cells and platelets. When a dangerous time passes, the patient’s condition improves dramatically. Somewhere between 3 and 12 weeks after the onset of treatment, all signs of leukemia will disappear, so it is said that there is a remission (transient release) of the disease. The patient then goes home.
Additional medication therapy is performed ambulatory at intervals of four to six weeks, and it takes about a year to keep the disease under control. However, leukemia almost always returns, and the new treatment is usually ineffective.