Acute Myeloid (Myelogenous) Leukemia

OVERVIEW

Leukemia is a cancer that begins in the hematopoietic (blood-forming) cells of the bone marrow, the soft, spongy inner part of such bones as the skull, pelvis, and backbones. The hematopoietic cells produce three types of blood cells: red, white, and platelets. Red cells carry oxygen to the muscles and provide the body with energy. Platelets are the clotting cells that prevent bleeding. White blood cells are the cells of the immune system. Leukemia occurs when abnormal blood cells reproduce and crowd out normal cells in the bone marrow. Most leukemias are cancers of the white blood cells. Abnormal leukemic cells can spread the cancer to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, skin, and central nervous system. (When cancer starts elsewhere and spreads to the bone marrow, it is not leukemia.)

Leukemia can be acute (such as acute myeloid leukemia) or chronic, depending on whether the abnormal cells are mature or immature. With acute leukemia, the bone marrow cells are unable to properly mature, and they result in immature cells (called blasts). Blasts continue to reproduce and amass at a rapid pace. Without treatment, patients with acute leukemia will die within several months from complications of bleeding or infection.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia among adults, although it does occur in children. The average age of an AML patient is 65. AML is more common among men than women. In 2007, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 13,500 people in the United States will be diagnosed with AML.

 

A crucial component to the accurate diagnosis of leukemia is The Cancer Center's Special Diagnostic Immunology Laboratory, one of only several sites in New Jersey where comprehensive tests are available to detect cancer at the molecular level and to stage and classify it.