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What Is AML? Understanding Disease Development

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Published on December 4, 2019

Key Takeaways

  • AML is a malignant stem cell disease of the bone marrow.
  • AML affects people of all ages.
  • There are significant treatment improvements on the horizon.

Where does acute myeloid leukemia (AML) start in the body? During this Ask the Expert segment, Dr. Gail Roboz breaks down the biology of AML to help viewers understand disease manifestation in the cells and the impact on bone marrow function. Dr. Roboz explains what happens to white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in AML patients and the heterogeneity of the condition. Watch now to learn from an AML expert.

This program is sponsored by AbbVie, Inc., Genentech, Inc. and Adaptive Biotechnologies. These organizations have no editorial control. It is produced by Patient Power. Patient Power is solely responsible for program content.

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Transcript | What Is AML? Understanding Disease Development

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Carol Preston:             

What exactly is AML? Let’s start with that one. 

Dr. Roboz:          

So, AML is acute myeloid leukemia. For those of you who are patients and caregivers, you’re going to be confused when you look it up because it will sometimes say acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s the same thing. It is a disease of the bone marrow. A malignant stem cell disease of the bone marrow. Bone marrow is an important organ. It makes white blood cells that fight infection, red blood cells that carry oxygen and platelets that are little tiny cells that help you clot.

And in AML, for reasons that we usually don’t know and can’t figure out; the bone marrow is taken over by a malignant proliferation of what we call leukemic blasts which are cells that don’t grow up and do what they’re supposed to do and instead they crowd out the other ones, prevent the normal functioning of the bone marrow and give the disease called AML.

 

Carol Preston:             

So, it’s one of several blood cancers. I mentioned that I have CLL, the most common and very treatable in the last few years. Why has it been so tough for truly effective and long-lasting treatment in the past 40 years for AML?

Dr. Roboz:          

So, AML affects all ages. There’s AML in children and there’s AML going to age 100. But the median age at diagnosis is in the late 60s, 67 to about 70 years old. And it’s a biologically and molecularly very heterogeneous disease. So, what I say to patients in the waiting room is that if you’re sitting next to someone with AML; it’s probably not anywhere near the same as yours even though the three letters are the same. So, it’s very important to understand that AML is a name but it actually encompasses a lot of biologically different diseases and the treatment has been very difficult.

The conventional chemotherapy treatments have historically been very difficult for older patients with medical comorbidities to handle. That’s part of the problem. But things, as you said, are getting better. 

Carol Preston:               

So, the good news is that since 2018 and the last couple of years a revolution of sorts. We saw it in CLL about three or four years ago. Multiple myeloma a couple of years so it seems that scientists are starting to crack the code.

Dr. Roboz:             

Moving in the right direction. You know I have to be careful in answering this because, of course, there are significant advances and we are very thrilled about them, but I’m always mindful having come back where there a lot of people still with AML as a very difficult disease to treat that isn’t being helped by current therapies. So, my measured answer is that we are excited and encouraged and the improvements are definitely significant. We’re going in the right direction, but it’s not cured yet.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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