What is Acute Myloid Leukaemia?

There are 137 different types of blood cancer so it is a very complicated one.  This post is just about the one I was diagnosed with as its the one I know a lot about now!  I am hoping to know more about other types of Leukaemia but as yet I haven’t done much research!
I will try to keep this as simple as possible as it’s extremely complicated!  I remember my specialist Macmillan nurse saying that Leukaemia is basically a liquid tumour so unlike other cancers it cannot be surgically removed!  I will never forget this statement, a liquid tumour running throughout my whole body…absolutely frightening!  
I have found it hard while researching this as it is the blood cancer I have but it’s also something I need to know.  Sometimes it can bring the traumatic memories back and remind me that I am still fighting it every day but overall it’s made me feel more in control and confident knowing fully what I am dealing with.  I also love learning and get a real buzz when I gain more understanding and knowledge.

I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) which is a rapidly and aggressively growing form of blood cancer.  It’s a cancer of the white blood cells or Leukocytes and is basically the disruption of the normal formation of these cells leading to the development of Leukaemia.  Normal Myeloid cells fight bacterial infections, defend the body against parasites and prevent the spread of tissue damage.  In AML myeloid cells are not fully developed, they have been ‘disrupted’ by a mutated gene in the stem cell. This happens during the cell’s early development in the stem cell affecting the control of cell division, differentiation and cell death.  This causes the production of cancerous ‘blast’ cells very rapidly crowding out other blood cells.  I had horrendous neck pain which was caused by this happening in my bone marrow, other patients may experience bone pain elsewhere.

AML starts in Myeloid stem cell

AML requires immediate treatment as it can be rapidly fatal;

  • Malignant cells can quickly spill over into the blood stream spreading to other organs.  
  • White blood cells quickly crowd out  and replace normal blood and marrow cells.
  • Patients can quickly develop sepsis which can be fatal.
  • Patients are extremely vulnerable to life threatening infections or serious internal bleeding.
A blood count will usually indicate Leukaemia but, diagnosis is only made by laboratory tests on a bone marrow biopsy.  The bone marrow biopsy cells are DNA tested to deem the type of blood cancer, this process is called ‘Cytogenetics’ and the development of this has meant that more patients have a better chance of survival.  Under the umbrella of AML there are lots of subtypes which again I won’t go into at this point as its very complicated.   
Once a patient’s gene mutation is known it is used as part of their prognosis prediction. The gene mutation in my Leukaemia is +veNPM1 -veFLT3 which gives me a favourable prognosis, I will write a separate post of what this actually means!  Consultants also use this information in order to decide on which treatment regimen will give you the best chance of achieving remission.  However, even after successful treatment there still remains a significant risk that the cancer will return.

Unfortunately at the moment the exact cause is unknown although there are some risk factors.  I did ask my consultant why I got it and he simply said ‘I’m sorry but we don’t know’.  I think I am ok with this as it’s nothing I have done so I can’t blame myself…it’s just an awful twist of fate.

I will write a separate post about the treatment involved.

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