It's important that your doctor is experienced in treating patients with acute leukemia or has access to an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) specialist.
Types of AML Treatment
Doctors use several types of treatment for adults with AML, some at different stages. Click on the links below to read more about each type of treatment.
Treatment for patients diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a unique subtype of AML, differs from other AML treatments. Click here to learn more.
Phases of Treatment
Treatment for AML is often divided into two phases:
- Induction Therapy. The first phase of treatment is called “induction.” The goal of induction is to destroy as many cancer cells as possible in order to achieve (induce) a remission.
- Consolidation (Post-remission) Therapy. This is the second phase of treatment, which begins after leukemia is in remission. The goal of consolidation therapy is to kill any remaining leukemia cells in the body.
See Chemotherapy and Drug Therapy for more information on the phases of treatment.
Finding the Best Treatment Approach
Most AML patients, particularly patients with high white cell counts, need treatment soon after diagnosis because the disease can progress rapidly.
A number of factors affect the choice and outcome of treatment, including:
- Your AML subtype
- The results of cytogenetic analysis
- Whether you have received chemotherapy in the past to treat another type of cancer
- Whether you have had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or another blood cancer
- Whether the AML is in your central nervous system
- Whether your AML has not responded to treatment or has relapsed
- The presence of systemic infection at diagnosis
- Your age and general health.
As you develop a treatment plan with your doctor, be sure to discuss:
- The results you can expect from treatment
- The possibility of participating in a clinical trial, where you'll have access to advanced medical treatment that may be more beneficial to you than standard treatment
- Potential side effects, including long-term and late effects
You may find it helpful to bring a loved one with you to your doctor's visits for support, to take notes and ask follow-up questions. It's a good idea to prepare questions you'd like to ask when you visit your doctor. You can also record your conversations with your doctor and listen more closely when you get home.
To download lists of suggested questions to ask your healthcare providers, click here.
Other Treatment Considerations
Patients Aged 60 Years and Older: AML occurs more frequently in older adults; at least half of patients are older than 65 years of age when the disease is diagnosed. Treatment approaches for these patients range from standard intensive induction chemotherapy to less intensive therapies, or the best supportive care. Additionally, there are a growing number of new treatment options available for older adults.
The treatment of AML in older patients is a challenge due to
- Higher occurrence of unfavorable cytogenetic and molecular abnormalities in the leukemia cells
- Difficulty tolerating more intense cancer treatments
- Comorbidities (other medical problems), including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and a history of stroke or lung disease
Older patients who are physically fit and have no serious health problems may benefit from intensive treatment. Fit elderly patients may even be candidates for reduced-intensity allogeneic transplantation. Not all patients want or can tolerate intensive therapies. Patients whose overall health make them poor candidates for intensive chemotherapy may still be able to participate in clinical trials. Or they may benefit from lower-intensity therapies which may relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and potentially extend survival.
Childhood AML: If your child is being treated for AML, therapy may differ slightly from that of the average adult's therapy. See Childhood AML.
Relapsed and Refractory AML: If your cancer has returned (relapsed) or it's still present after you finish standard therapy (refractory leukemia), you may have a different treatment approach than the first time around. See Refractory and Relapsed AML.
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's free booklet, Acute Myeloid Leukemia in Adults.
- Communicating with Your Specialist