5 Things Parents Need To Know About Acute Myelogenous Leukemia


Acute myelogenous leukemia, also called acute nonlymphatic leukemia, is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that can affect children and teenagers. It's the second most common type of leukemia among this age group. Here are five things parents need to know about acute myelogenous leukemia.

What causes acute myelogenous leukemia?

Acute myelogenous leukemia starts in the developing cells within the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the substance that fills the interior of your child's bones; it also is responsible for making blood cells. Sometimes, the DNA within these developing cells gets damaged. This damage can be caused by radiation, chemicals or unknown factors. These damaged cells multiply and crowd out the healthy cells within the bone marrow. 

What are the signs of acute myelogenous leukemia?

The signs of acute myelogenous leukemia are vague and can be mistaken for other types of illnesses, like the flu. Your child may tell you that they feel tired, weak or just generally unwell. They may also bruise easily or develop bleeding gums. Vomiting or abdominal discomfort can also be signs of leukemia. If your child tells you that they're not feeling well, take them to their doctor. Acute myelogenous leukemia can be diagnosed with simple blood testing

How is acute myelogenous leukemia treated?

The first line of treatment for this type of leukemia is chemotherapy. For the first three days, the chemotherapy medication is given for only 15 to 30 minutes each day. For the next seven days, the medication is given continuously. This sends about 50% of patients into remission. If necessary, the chemotherapy regimen can be repeated. About 10% to 15% of patients enter remission after a second course of treatment.

Bone marrow transplantation is another possible treatment option for this type of leukemia. This treatment involves taking healthy bone marrow from another person and transplanting them into your child. The bone marrow needs to come from someone with similar genes, and if they have a brother or sister, their sibling is probably the best match. However, you or your spouse may also be a good match for your child. If no one in the family is a good match, unrelated donors with similar genes can be found through bone marrow registries.

Since children with acute myelogenous leukemia can't make healthy blood cells, your child will need blood transfusions during their treatment. They will also receive platelet transfusions. Platelets are a type of blood cell that helps the blood clot.

What is the survival rate?

The survival rate for this type of leukemia is fairly good. Five years after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, 65% of sufferers are still alive. It's important to remember that five-year survival rates are just an estimate, and they don't take into account your child's individual circumstances and risks. Plus, since experts only re-evaluate the survival rates every five years, they don't take into account new diagnostic tests or cutting-edge treatments. 

Are your other children at risk?

If one of your children is diagnosed with leukemia, it's normal to worry that their siblings are also at risk. Fortunately, the risk of them also developing leukemia is low. While siblings of kids with leukemia are two to four times more likely to get the cancer, this still represents a low risk. The only exception is for identical twins. If one twin gets leukemia, the other has a 20% chance of also getting it. Routine blood tests can be performed on your other children so that if they do get leukemia it can be caught early. 

If you think your child has acute myelogenous leukemia, take them to a doctor or oncology clinic right away.

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