Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood. The two most common fungal infections that affect people with AML are aspergillosis and candidiasis.
Invasive fungal infection is a leading cause of illness and mortality in people with acute leukemia. According to a 2019 study, about 12 to 24 percent of people with AML develop invasive fungal infections. But there are medications to prevent and treat these fungal infections.
Read on to find out how AML lowers resistance to fungal infection, as well as prevention and treatment strategies.
AML is a type of blood cancer. It starts in the bone marrow but usually moves into the blood fairly quickly. It tends to develop from white blood cells that dont function as they should.
White blood cells are a vital part of the immune system. When a foreign invader like bacteria, virus, or fungus enters your body, white blood cells spring into action. Their job is to attack the invader and prevent illness.
When you have AML, leukemia cells crowd out healthy white blood cells. The production of new white blood cells becomes impaired.
In addition, treatment for AML involves intense chemotherapy, which can also lower your white blood cell count. As a result, the immune system is suppressed and youre more vulnerable to infection and illness.
Other treatments that can weaken the immune system include:
Other health problems and nutritional deficiencies can also contribute to the suppression of the immune system.
During cancer treatment, your doctor will monitor your white blood cell count, particularly a type of white blood cell called neutrophils. Theyre an important line of defense against infection. If your neutrophil count is low, you have a condition called neutropenia, which increases the risk of infection.
Aspergillus molds and Candida yeasts are the most common fungi to affect people with AML.
Aspergillosis is an infection triggered by Aspergillus. Its a common mold that can be found indoors or outside. Most of us breathe it in every day without cause for concern. But if you have a weakened immune system, you have an increased likelihood of developing the illness.
There are different types of aspergillosis, each causing a different set of symptoms:
While its possible to develop any of these types if you have a weakened immune system, about 10 percent of people with AML develop invasive aspergillosis. This infection most commonly affects the lung.
Candidiasis is an infection caused by Candida. We all have this yeast on our bodies. It only causes problems when it grows out of control or enters the bloodstream or internal organs.
Different types of candidiasis cause different symptoms:
Invasive candidiasis is a serious infection that can affect many parts of the body. In addition to causing fever and chills, invasive candidiasis can affect the:
Some less common types of fungi that can also affect people with AML are:
Fungi are everywhere, so its difficult to completely avoid them. Here are a few things you can do to help lower your risk of infection:
Prevention and treatment for fungal infections in people with AML require an individualized approach. Even if you show no sign of infection, your doctor may prescribe a prophylactic medication designed to prevent a fungal infection. They include:
If you do develop a fungal infection, some drugs above can help treat it. Additional medications used to treat fungal infection are:
Fungal infections can recur. Thats why you may need both antifungal therapy and prophylactic therapy until your blood counts improve.
Medications to prevent or treat fungal infections each have potential benefits and risks. The treatment that is best for you depends on a number of factors, such as:
Symptoms of fungal infections are similar to those of other health conditions. Its a good idea to get in touch with your doctor whenever you have new or worsening symptoms. While some fungal infections are minor, others can be life threatening.
Untreated, fungal infections can spread to other parts of the body. Getting a quick diagnosis means you can start treatment that may prevent illness. Some signs of fungal infection include:
Fungal infections are not uncommon in people with AML. Both AML and chemotherapy can significantly weaken the immune system, increasing risk for infection. Fungal infections can affect a single organ, such as the lungs or sinuses, or they can affect the bloodstream and multiple organs.
Aspergillosis and candidiasis are the most common fungal infections affecting people with AML.
Fortunately, there are medications to help prevent and treat fungal infections. If you have AML, speak with your doctor about your risk factors and how you can prevent fungal infection.
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