Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Treatment

Written by: Emily Downward and Juliette Daily| Last reviewed: June 2022 | Last updated: July 2022

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing cancer that needs prompt treatment. AML is also sometimes called acute myelogenous leukemia. While treatment should begin right after diagnosis, a second opinion may be able to provide more information or other treatment options.1

The type of treatment is based on several factors, including:1-3

  • The particular subtype of AML
  • The age and general health of the person with AML
  • The overall health of the person with AML

Different subtypes of AML can have varying responses to treatment. For example, treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is different than other forms of AML. APL is a subtype of AML.1-3

Types of treatment for acute myeloid leukemia

Different types of treatment may be used for AML, including:1

  • Chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted therapy
  • Antibody-based therapy

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to stop cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by targeting fast-growing cells, such as cancer cells. However, other fast-growing cells in the body can also be affected, such as those in the digestive system and hair.1,2

Chemotherapy drugs may be used along with other therapies or alone. They may be taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle.1,2

Stem cell transplant

In a stem cell transplant, the bone marrow stem cells of a person with cancer are replaced. Before the transplant, high doses of chemotherapy are used to destroy the cancer cells. Then, replacement stem cells are provided by a donor. This is called an allogeneic transplant.2

Or, if the stem cells of the person with cancer were removed before they received chemotherapy, those cells are put back in their body. This is called an autologous transplant. Allogeneic transplants are more common than autologous transplants.2

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are cancer treatments that block or slow the spread of cancer. They do this by interfering with specific areas of cancer cells involved in cell growth. They may focus on specific features that are unique to cancer cells.1,2

While chemotherapy drugs often destroy cancer cells, targeted therapy usually blocks the growth of those cells. Targeted therapies may be used along with chemotherapy to treat certain types of AML.1,2

Antibody-based therapy

Antibody-based therapy is another treatment option. Gemtuzumab-ozogamicin (Mylotarg™) is approved to treat AML. Gemtuzumab-ozogamicin is a type of drug called an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC). ADCs contain a combination of chemicals that work together to find and destroy cancer cells. There are other ADCs currently in clinical trials.4,5

Treatment phases

Treatment for AML is generally categorized by phases:3

  • Induction therapy, which is treatment that is started soon after diagnosis
  • Consolidation therapy, which may be given after induction to reduce the risk of a relapse

Induction and consolidation are used together when intensive chemotherapy is used. This is typically part of a curative strategy, where the treatment goal is to completely remove the cancer.5,6

Some treatments are considered non-curative. This means the goal is to control the leukemia, improve blood counts, and ease symptoms. This kind of treatment is called palliative care. It may be done with medicine such as a hypomethylating agent.6

Clinical trials

In clinical trials, researchers study new treatments for certain diseases. They can help prove that treatments both work and are safe for people to take. People with cancer may be able to participate in clinical trials to try a new treatment under the close care of doctors.

Learn more about clinical trials by visiting ClinicalTrials.gov website. You can also talk to your doctor, who can help you look for a clinical trial that is right for you.1,3,7

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