Acute myeloid leukaemia treatment
How is AML treated?
Because it progresses quickly, treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia needs to begin soon after it is diagnosed. Although there is a degree of urgency, all necessary information from the tests and scans that were conducted is vital to ensure the doctors offer the appropriate treatment to the individual. The type of treatment used will depend on a number of factors including the sub-type of AML you have, the genetic make-up of the leukaemic cells, your age and general health.
Chemotherapy is the main form of treatment for AML. Initially the aim of treatment is to destroy leukaemic cells and induce a remission. This means that there is no evidence of leukaemic cells in the blood and bone marrow and that normal blood cell production and normal blood counts are restored. Once a remission has been achieved, more chemotherapy is given to try to prevent the leukaemia from returning (relapsing). This is called post-remission or consolidation therapy.
Chemotherapy is usually given as a combination of drugs, usually given over a period of a week or so. Further courses of chemotherapy are given but are spaced out by three or four weeks. In most cases the drugs are given as infusions through a special line called a central venous catheter, which will be inserted before you start treatment.
Once remission has been achieved, some form of post-remission therapy is given to reduce the risk of the leukaemia coming back. The type of post-remission treatment used will depend on several factors including the type of disease involved, how well it responded to induction therapy, your age and your general health. In some cases, where there is a high risk that the leukaemia will relapse, patients may be offered even more intensive therapy followed by a stem cell transplant.
The treatment of acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML or M3) differs from the treatment of other types of acute leukaemia. For information APML and how it is treated explore our section on APML.
Although a high proportion of patients with AML will achieve remission a proportion will relapse. Relapsed AML tends to be more resistant to treatment. If a patient has not undergone an allogeneic transplant this treatment option will be considered. For patients who have undergone a transplant, it may be possible to use immune system cells from the original donor to treat the disease. If it is not feasible to attempt aggressive therapy, reasonable control of the disease for a short period may be obtained with low dose chemotherapy.