If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with acute myleoid leukemia, don’t despair – as lethal of a disease as it is, it’s still treatable in the majority of the cases. Even older people – those affected by AML most often and most aggressively – stand a reasonable chance of being cured so long as their bodies can handle the intensity of the required treatment.
Treatment of AML is multi-layered and fairly prolonged – the patient will have to undergo extensive chemotherapy in conjuction with other methods of subduing this disease.
An overview of the standard treatment
Like with other forms of cancer, the go-to method of fighting acute myleoid leukemia is chemotherapy. Treatment starts essentially right after AML has been diagnosed and consists mainly of inductive chemotherapy that’s meant to greatly reduce the presence of visible leukemic cells.
While highly effective, IV chemotherapy is difficult to handle for those past their physical prime – in cases of older AML sufferers, other forms of treatment replace induction, although they generally yield lesser results.
The patient is closely monitored during chemotherapy to see how the body handles the treatments – if all goes well, initial treatment should last no longer than two weeks before ridding the body of every last leukemic cell.
Afterwards, the patient moves onto the next stage of the treatment called ‘consolidation’ whose purpose is to eliminate the chance of AML relapsing – while leukemic cells are no longer visible after induction treatment, they will still be present and are almost guaranteed to replicate in the absence of post-remission treatment.
Consolidation treatment usually lasts for several weeks and is no less intensive than induction – in cases of elderly patients or those with compromised health, doctors might choose to apply a full induction course but compromise on consolidation treatment in some way to avoid stressing the patient too much.
After consolidation, it is presumed that the leukemic cells are gone from good, although the possibility of a relapse is still very much present. Therefore, patients who are done with standard treatment might need to be monitored for the rest of their lives due to the possibility of the illness coming back.
Other treatments available
While chemotherapy is the most common method of treatment (and one with the most success), other methods are available when the patient is unable or unwilling to undergo chemotherapy or when the disease has relapsed.
One such treatment comes in the form of stem cell replacement – this type of treatment replaces consolidation for patients with a high chance of relapse. While effective, an appropriate donor needs to be available in order to provide the necessary stem cells for transplantation.
Other treatments include immunotherapy through a combination of anti-leukemic medication and arsenic trioxide in cases of a specific AML subtype called promyelocytic leukemia. Patients who have had little success with standard methods of treatment might choose to undergo clinical trials for new and experimental drugs, although there is rarely any prognosis available here – certain patients might also be eligible to skip standard treatment altogether if an optimistic trial becomes available.