Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

What is Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?

Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood-forming tissue, primarily the bone marrow and the lymph nodes. Bone marrow is the sponge-like tissue inside the large bones of the body. Bone marrow produces red blood cells (which carry oxygen and other materials to all tissues of the body), white blood cells (which fight infection), and platelets (which helps the blood to clot). There are two main types of white blood cells—lymphoid cells and myeloid cells. AML affects the myeloid cells.

When leukemia develops, the bone marrow produces large numbers of abnormal—usually white—blood cells. These blood cells (which are not capable of fighting infection) flood the blood stream and lymph system and may invade vital organs. AML can appear in adults and children, but it is treated differently in each (for information on the adult type, please see Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Other Childhood Myeloid Malignancies

There are several diseases closely linked to AML:

  • Acute promyelocytic leukemia: Very rare type of AML; prevents blood from clotting normally.
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS): Disorders of blood-forming cells; cause a deficiency in white and red bloods cells and platelets; may lead to AML.
  • Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML): Extremely rare cancer of the blood-forming cells

Risk Factors

Very little is known about the causes of AML. Current research shows that AML is most common in the first two years of life, less common among older children, and then the number of cases begins to increase again in the teenage years. Children with Down's syndrome have a higher risk of developing AML. Gender and race do not appear to play a role in developing AML.

Common Symptoms

Early signs of AML may include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling tired and/or weak
  • Chills
  • Frequent infections
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes, liver, or spleen
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Achy bones or joints

If your child has any symptoms like these, he/she should be examined by their doctor.

Diagnosing AML

If a child is experiencing symptoms, a doctor will first complete a physical exam. Following the exam, the doctor may prescribe blood tests. The sample will be examined to determine the number of normal blood cells, and to look for the presence of leukemia cells. To then confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may prescribe a bone marrow biopsy or a chromosomal analysis.

Treatment Options

Once the diagnosis of cancer is confirmed, your child's doctor will work with you and your child to determine the best treatment plan. Treatment will be determined by the stage of the disease, as well as your child's age and general health. Current treatment options include:

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