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Leukaemia - Myoblastic - Acute 30C

What is acute myeloblastic leukaemia?

Normally, blood cells are made in the bone marrow in an orderly and controlled way. In acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), this process gets out of control and many abnormal leukaemia cells are made. These cells are immature and aren't able to develop into normal functioning blood cells. They are sometimes called blast cells.

AML is an overproduction of an early myeloid cell. In most types of AML the leukaemia cells are immature white cells. But, in some less common types of AML, too many immature platelets or immature red blood cells are made.

The immature cells fill up the bone marrow, taking up space that is needed to make normal blood cells. Some leukaemia cells 'spill over' into the blood and circulate around the body in the bloodstream. These leukaemia cells don't mature, and so don't work properly. This leads to an increased risk of infection as well as symptoms such as anaemia and bruising caused by fewer healthy red blood cells and platelets being made.

Causes of acute myeloid leukaemia

The exact causes of acute myeloid leukaemia are unknown and in most cases it is unclear why leukaemia has developed. Research into possible causes is going on all the time.

Large doses of radiation may increase the risk of leukaemia. People exposed to high levels of radiation, such as nuclear industry accidents, have a higher risk of developing leukaemia than people who have not been exposed to radiation.

Smoking increases the risk of developing AML. It is thought that this may be due to the concentrated levels of benzene in cigarette smoke. In very rare cases, AML may occur after long-term exposure to benzene (and possibly other solvents) used in industry.

Rarely, some anti-cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can cause leukaemia to develop some years later. The risk is increased when certain types of chemotherapy drugs are combined with radiotherapy. When leukaemia develops because of previous anti-cancer treatment this is called secondary leukaemia or treatment-related leukaemia.

People with certain blood disorders, such as myelodysplasia, or some genetic disorders, including Down's syndrome, have a higher risk of developing AML. It is not caused by an inherited faulty gene.

Acute myeloid leukaemia isn't infectious and can't be passed on to other people.


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