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What is Acute Monocytic Leukemia?

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  • Written By: M. Haskins
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the body's ability to produce blood, leading to higher than normal levels of leukocytes, more commonly known as white blood cells. There are many types of leukemia, and acute monocytic leukemia, also called AMoL, specifically affects a certain type of white blood cells called monocytes. Acute monocytic leukemia is a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia, also called AML, which is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults. That it is an acute leukemia means it progresses quickly, with a rapid increase in the number of abnormal white blood cells that inhibit the formation of healthy blood cells in the bone marrow. Acute monocytic leukemia is usually treated with chemotherapy and sometimes bone marrow transplants.

Blood is formed when stem cells in the bone marrow mature into different kinds of blood cells, such as platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells. Healthy white blood cells help the body fight infections, but acute monocytic leukemia causes the formation of more monocytic white blood cells than normal, and because these cells are immature they cannot fight off infection effectively. Their overwhelming number also inhibits the bone marrow's ability to form normal, healthy white blood cells, as well as inhibiting the formation of healthy red blood cells and platelets. Therefore, common symptoms of acute monocytic leukemia are anemia and decreased resistance to infection.

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Various classification systems are used to divide these types of cancer of the blood into subcategories. One common classification system used specifically for acute myeloid leukemia includes several subtypes named from M0 to M8. Acute monocytic leukemia belongs to the subtype AML-M5. This subtype is further divided into AML-M5a, which is called acute monoblastic leukemia, and AML-M5b, which is acute monocytic leukemia. Symptoms of both types of AML-M5 leukemia include fatigue, abnormal bruising and bleeding, and increased risk of blood clots in the blood vessels and internal organs.

Hematology is the study of the blood, including how to diagnose, treat, and prevent blood disorders and blood cancers such as acute monocytic leukemia. To diagnose what type of leukemia a patient is suffering from, various blood tests and hematological studies are done, including a complete blood count (CBC) and a white blood cell count (WBC). It is not fully understood what causes any kind of leukemia, but exposure to radiation and some types of chemicals are a risk factor.

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