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What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?

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Published on March 15, 2016

Dr. Charles Craddock of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK, gives an overview of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). In this video Dr. Craddock talks about biological processes that lead to the development of AML, how it presents in the form of signs and symptoms, and how it is normally treated.
Recorded at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) 2015 Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL.

This programme has been supported by Pfizer, through an unrestricted educational grant to the Patient Empowerment Foundation


Transcript | What Is Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?

Acute myeloid leukaemia is one of the commonest blood cancers, and it occurs because of acquired abnormality in the bone marrow.  The blood stem cells, which are normally responsible for producing our normal white cells that fight against infection, red cells that carry the oxygen and keep us full of energy and platelets that stop us bleeding and bruising.  The normal stem cells acquire an abnormality for reasons that we often don’t understand, and this blocks their ability to differentiate into normal red cells, white cells and platelets, and as a result the bone marrow becomes full of very abnormal cells, cancerous cells, and patients suffer from the consequences of shortage of red cells, white cells and platelets.

So typically with acute myeloid leukaemia a patient will present either with fatigue or shortness of breath consequent upon becoming anaemic, or they may find they get repeated infections because their white cell count is low, or they may find that they bruise or typically bleed, perhaps after brushing your teeth. And so those are the presentations of what we call bone marrow failure, where the bone marrow fails to do its normal job.

So it’s important, when first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, to understand that those are the common symptoms, and that there is a potentially reversible cause, and the way that we go about putting patients back to full health is to work to eradicate, with chemotherapy or transplant, those abnormal leukemic cells.  Treatments are advancing rapidly, and there’s a real chance, although this is a very serious, potentially life-threatening disease, of achieving a cure.  Exactly what form of treatment is required will be discussed between patients and their doctors, and will depend upon the patient’s initial response to treatment as well as a number of critical factors about the leukaemia itself, which we can understand from analysing it in the lab, and also some very important patient-related factors largely related to patient fitness.

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