Acute Myeloid Leukemia - Diagnosis


The first clue to a diagnosis of AML is typically an abnormal result on a complete blood count. While an excess of abnormal white blood cells (leukocytosis) is a common finding, and leukemic blasts are sometimes seen, AML can also present with isolated decreases in platelets, red blood cells, or even with a low white blood cell count (leukopenia). While a presumptive diagnosis of AML can be made via examination of the peripheral blood smear when there are circulating leukemic blasts, a definitive diagnosis usually requires an adequate bone marrow aspiration and biopsy.

Marrow or blood is examined via light microscopy, as well as flow cytometry, to diagnose the presence of leukemia, to differentiate AML from other types of leukemia (e.g. acute lymphoblastic leukemia - ALL), and to classify the subtype of disease (see below). A sample of marrow or blood is typically also tested for chromosomal abnormalities by routine cytogenetics or fluorescent in situ hybridization. Genetic studies may also be performed to look for specific mutations in genes such as FLT3, nucleophosmin, and KIT, which may influence the outcome of the disease.

Cytochemical stains on blood and bone marrow smears are helpful in the distinction of AML from ALL, and in subclassification of AML. The combination of a myeloperoxidase or Sudan black stain and a nonspecific esterase stain will provide the desired information in most cases. The myeloperoxidase or Sudan black reactions are most useful in establishing the identity of AML and distinguishing it from ALL. The nonspecific esterase stain is used to identify a monocytic component in AMLs and to distinguish a poorly differentiated monoblastic leukemia from ALL.

The diagnosis and classification of AML can be challenging, and should be performed by a qualified hematopathologist or hematologist. In straightforward cases, the presence of certain morphologic features (such as Auer rods) or specific flow cytometry results can distinguish AML from other leukemias; however, in the absence of such features, diagnosis may be more difficult.

According to the widely used WHO criteria, the diagnosis of AML is established by demonstrating involvement of more than 20% of the blood and/or bone marrow by leukemic myeloblasts. The French–American–British (FAB) classification is a bit more stringent, requiring a blast percentage of at least 30% in bone marrow (BM) or peripheral blood (PB) for the diagnosis of AML. AML must be carefully differentiated from "preleukemic" conditions such as myelodysplastic or myeloproliferative syndromes, which are treated differently.

Because acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) has the highest curability and requires a unique form of treatment, it is important to quickly establish or exclude the diagnosis of this subtype of leukemia. Fluorescent in situ hybridization performed on blood or bone marrow is often used for this purpose, as it readily identifies the chromosomal translocation (t) that characterizes APL.

Read more about this topic:  Acute Myeloid Leukemia

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