Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Treatment

As an acute cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (also known as acute myelogenous leukemia or AML) is fast-growing and requires prompt treatment. While treatment should begin soon after diagnosis, it can be helpful to get a second opinion (if time safely allows), which can provide additional information or other treatment options. The type of treatment is based on several factors, including the particular subtype of AML, the age of the individual, and their general health. Different subtypes of AML can have varying responses to treatment options.1 Treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of AML that is identified by a translocation of chromosomes 15 and 17, is different than other forms of AML.2,3

Types of treatment for acute myeloid leukemia

There are different types of treatment that may be used for AML, including:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted therapy1

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to stop cancer cells. Chemotherapy medications may be used in combination, and chemotherapy drugs may be taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy works by targeting fast-growing cells, such as cancer cells. However, there are other fast-growing cells in the body that can also be affected, such as those in the gastrointestinal tract and hair.1,2

Stem cell transplant

A stem cell transplant uses high doses of chemotherapy, which destroys the cancerous cells, followed by replacement of bone marrow stem cells. The replacement stem cells may be provided by a donor (called an allogeneic transplant) or by the patient (called an autologous transplant) prior to the administration of high-dose chemotherapy.2

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are cancer treatments that block or slow the spread of cancer by interfering with specific areas of cancerous cells that are involved in the cancer cell’s growth, or by focusing on particular characteristics that are unique to cancer cells. While chemotherapy drugs are cytotoxic, meaning they kill cancer cells, targeted therapy is typically cytostatic, meaning it blocks the growth of cancer cells. Targeted therapies may be used in combination with chemotherapy to treat certain types of AML.1,2

Treatment phases

Treatment for AML is generally categorized by phases:

  • Induction therapy, treatment that is begun soon after diagnosis
  • Consolidation therapy, which may be given after induction to reduce the risk of a relapse3

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are a type of research where new treatments are studied. Clinical trials are an important part of the scientific process to find and prove the safety and effectiveness of new treatments, and they offer patients a chance to receive the latest treatments and be closely monitored by healthcare professionals. Clinical trials can be found by talking to a doctor or through the website ClinicalTrials.gov. Patients can discuss treatment options with their doctor to determine if they might be eligible to participate in a clinical trial.1,3,4

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2018
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