Treating Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

If you've been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Your options may be affected by the AML subtype, as well as certain other prognostic factors (described in Acute Myeloid Leukemia Subtypes and Prognostic Factors), as well as your age and overall state of health.

Which treatments are used for AML?

The main types of treatment for AML are:

The main treatment for most types of AML is chemotherapy, sometimes along with a targeted therapy drug. This might be followed by a stem cell transplant. Other drugs (besides standard chemotherapy drugs) may be used to treat people with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). Surgery and radiation therapy are not major treatments for AML, but they may be used in special circumstances.

The typical treatment approach for AML is different from the treatment approach for acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). The response rates for treatment can vary based on the subtype of AML, as well as other factors. Treatment options might be different if the AML doesn't respond to the initial treatment or if it comes back later on.

The treatment approach for children with AML can be slightly different from that used for adults. It's discussed separately in Treatment of Children With Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

Which types of doctors treat AML?

Based on your treatment options, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors could include:

  • A hematologist: a doctor who treats disorders of the blood
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines

Other doctors might also be part of your treatment team, as well as physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.

Making treatment decisions

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options and their goals and possible side effects, with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important things to consider include:

  • Your age and overall health
  • The type of AML you have
  • The likelihood that treatment will cure you (or help in some other way)
  • Your feelings about the possible side effects from treatment

In most cases AML can progress quickly if not treated, so it's important to start treatment as soon as possible after the diagnosis is made. But it’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good examples in Questions to Ask About Acute Myeloid Leumia (AML).

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials, and ask about the pros and cons of enrolling in one. See Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

  • Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care.
  • Alternative treatments are used instead of standard medical treatment.

Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the leukemia, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get treatment, but it’s important to talk this through with your doctors before you make this decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.