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Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) can be a difficult disease to cure. However, advances in AML treatment have resulted in improved remission (an absence of signs and symptoms) and cure rates. This is partly due to allogeneic stem cell transplantation, which can cure some patients.

Treatment outcomes can be broken down into four categories:

  • active disease
  • minimal residual disease
  • complete molecular remission
  • remission (complete remission)

The table below describes the difference between each category.

AML Treatment Outcomes

Active disease AML is still present during treatment or after treatment (refractory) or AML has come back after treatment (relapsed). A patient with relapsed AML has more than 5 percent blast cells in the marrow.

Minimal residual disease No AML cells are detected in bone marrow using standard tests, such as looking at cells under a microscope. But more sensitive tests, such as flow cytometry or very sensitive tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), detect remaining AML cells in the marrow.*

Complete molecular remission No evidence of AML cells in the marrow when using sensitive tests such as PCR.

Remission (complete remission)

No evidence of disease after treatment, based on:

  • less than 5 percent blast cells in the marrow
  • blood cell counts within normal limits
  • no signs or symptoms of the disease

*A finding of 1 percent to 5 percent of white cells in the marrow that are blast cells doesn't indicate that a patient has minimal residual disease. This percentage of blast cells can be found in people who don't have leukemia.

Cure Rates and Age

Age affects cure rates:

  • Adults ages 65 and younger with the disease have a greater possibility of cure than those patients who are older.
  • Children with the disease have a cure rate just below 50 percent.

In addition, younger adults and patients with certain cytogenetic patterns and certain AML subtypes, such as acute promyelocytic leukemia, respond better to some treatment than others do.

Relative Survival Rate

Relative survival compares (1) how long a person with a disease survives after being diagnosed to (2) how long a person without the disease lives. Survival statistics for AML are usually reported as five-year survival rates.

Below are the total averaged AML five-year relative survival rates for 2003 to 2009, by age at diagnosis:

  • Patients diagnosed with AML have an overall five-year relative survival rate of 24.9 percent.
  • Children younger than 15 years have an overall five-year relative survival rate of 64.8 percent.

In 2014, there will be an estimated 10,460 deaths from AML.

Treatment Results

Treatment results and outcomes vary among patients. It's also important to understand that the latest five-year survival statistics only reflect rates up to 2008. Recent and ongoing improvements in treatment and care may not be reflected in these rates. Newer treatment therapies, progress in stem cell transplantation, better supportive care and studies of new drugs in clinical trials are all contributing to improved outcomes and quality of life for people diagnosed with blood cancers.

last updated on Friday, September 12, 2014

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