An acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis often appears out of nowhere, but physicians have found some possible risk factors associated with the disease that are important.
Dr. Gail Roboz, a noted AML expert and medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, provided her perspective to SurvivorNet about risk factors associated with an AML diagnosis. According to Dr. Roboz, patients who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation for other forms of cancer can be at increased risk of AML, and she encourages all patients to let their doctors know about prior cancer treatments. However, she notes that AML is a rare disease and a majority of cancer patients will not be diagnosed. Dr. Roboz also points out that exposure to organic solvents, such as benzene, are associated with AML, but the association isn’t necessarily clear, and doesn’t affect treatment options overall.
“One of the things that’s actually emerging that as a very important potential predisposition is familial,” Dr. Roboz says. “We didn’t really used to think of a familial predisposition as important in acute leukemia and yet it might be that up to 10% of leukemias are associated with some sort of familial predisposition.”
With this new discovery, people should expect physicians to ask them questions concerning whether family members have had blood disorders, abnormal blood counts, or a history of leukemia.
“That said, the majority of patients have this sporadically or out of the clear blue sky,” Dr. Roboz says.
As AML is a diagnosis which is often not on the radar for people, and screening tests have not been found helpful in detecting early signs of AML, people should be aware of early signs.
Dr. Roboz tells SurvivorNet that common symptoms of AML include unexplained bruising, shortness of breath, fatigue, or infection. In some cases, symptoms may not present themselves at all, and individuals find out about a possible AML diagnosis during a regular health evaluation. Symptoms of AML can present themselves as a common diseases such as the flu, and AML spreads quickly, so it’s important to let physicians know about them as soon as possible.
AML is a cancer of the bone marrow. There are certain environmental factors, as well as familial predispositions, that may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease.