Acute Monocytic Leukemia

Acute Monocytic Leukemia

There are several types of white blood cells in our blood.  Above is a chart of the different kinds which include lymphocytes, monocytes, basophils, neutrophils and eosinophils. Any time any of these cell are produced rapidly from the bone marrow and seen in immature stages in the peripheral blood system then this is usually caused by cancer and is determined to be a leukemia.

In this article we will be addressing acute monocytic leukemia.  Acute stage of any leukemia is when the bone marrow produces an abnormal amount of premature white cells that can be seen in our blood system through a microscope.

Notice how large these monocytes are seen in the peripheral blood under a microscope after a smear has been made on a glass slide and then stained with Wrights. These are called white cells in the blast stage which is very immature.  Notice the center nucleus is very large. A normal monocyte nucleus is small and condensed.  The outer cytoplasm has vacuoles (holes).

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is one of the most common types of leukemia among adults. This type of cancer is rare under age 40. It generally occurs around age 60. (This article focuses on AML in adults.)
AML is more common in men than women.
Persons with this type of cancer have abnormal cells inside their bone marrow. The cells grow very fast, and replace healthy blood cells. The bone marrow, which helps the body fight infections, eventually stops working correctly. Persons with AML become more prone to infections and have an increased risk for bleeding as the numbers of healthy blood cells decrease.
Most of the time, a doctor cannot tell you what caused AML. However, the following things are thought to lead to some types of leukemia, including AML:

  • Certain chemicals (for example, benzene)

  • Certain chemotherapy drugs, including etoposide and drugs known as alkylating agents

  • Radiation

Problems with your genes may also play a role in the development of AML.
You have an increased risk for AML if you have or had any of the following:

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam. There may be signs of a swollen spleen, liver, or lymph nodes.
A complete blood count (CBC) shows anemia and a low number of platelets. A white blood cell count (WBC) can be high, low, or normal.
Bone marrow aspiration will show if there are any leukemia cells.
If your doctor learns you do have this type of leukemia, further tests will be done to determine the specific type of AML. There are eight subtypes of AML. They range from M0 to M7, based on which blood cells are abnormal.


Treatment involves using medicines to kill the cancer cells. This is called chemotherapy. But chemotherapy kills normal cells, too. This may cause side effects such as excessive bleeding and an increased risk for infection. Your doctor may want to keep you away from other people to prevent infection.
Other treatments for AML may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection

  • Bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant after radiation and chemotherapy

  • Red blood cell transfusions to fight anemia

  • Transfusions of platelets to control bleeding

Most types of AML are treated the same way. However, a form of AML called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is treated with a medicine called all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). This medicine helps leukemia cells grow into normal white blood cells. The drug arsenic trioxide is for use in patients with APL who do not get better with ATRA or chemotherapy.

Outlook (Prognosis)

When the signs and symptoms of AML go away, you are said to be in remission. Complete remission occurs in most patients.
With treatment, younger patients with AML tend to do better than those who develop the disease at an older age. The 5-year survival rate is much lower in older adults than younger persons. Experts say this is partly due to the fact that the body of a younger person can better tolerate strong chemotherapy medicines.
If the cancer does not come back (relapse) within 5 years of the diagnosis, you are considered permanently cured.

Possible Complications

Complications of AML and cancer treatment include severe infections and life-threatening bleeding. Sometimes, the cancer comes back (relapses) after treatment.

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