Acute myeloid leukemia (ALM) medications and treatments aim to stop the cancer’s growth and spread. Some options doctors use to treat the condition include chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and corticosteroids.
Treatment for AML focuses on preventing the growth of immature blood cells, allowing the body to produce more healthy cells.
Chemotherapy is the main form of treatment for AML. Doctors also use targeted drugs, corticosteroids, and stem cell transplants. They may prescribe additional drugs to treat side effects.
Read more to learn about drugs that treat AML, complementary therapies, side effects, and more.
AML treatment depends on a person’s age, overall health, and cancer stage.
Additionally, some people have genetic mutations present in their cancer cells. People with these mutations may be candidates for certain targeted therapies to kill the cancer.
An oncologist may recommend several tests to determine which treatment is appropriate. In general, for young or otherwise healthy people, the
- Induction chemotherapy: This is the first stage of chemotherapy and aims to reduce the number of cancer cells. Most people use the 7+3 regimen, which includes 7 days of receiving the chemotherapy medication cytarabine, with the last 3 days including the addition of an anthracycline.
Stem cell transplant: The next stage of treatment is a hematopoietic stem cell transplant. The stem cells help a person’s body recover better, enabling doctors to give them a stronger dose of chemotherapy.
- Consolidation therapy: If a person is healthy enough, the next step is high-dose chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is the treatment doctors most commonly use to treat AML. They may also use other treatments, such as targeted drugs and corticosteroids.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved numerous drugs specifically for the treatment of AML. These include:
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells. However, they can also damage healthy cells.
The most common chemotherapy treatment for AML includes a combination of cytarabine and a group of drugs called anthracyclines. Examples of anthracyclines include daunorubicin, idarubicin, and daunomycin.
Some examples of other chemotherapy drugs used to treat AML
Certain genes and proteins can enable cancer cell growth.
Targeted drugs for AML include:
Some leukemia cells have a mutation on the FLT3 gene. Drugs that target this gene can slow the cancer’s growth.
If a person’s cancer cells have a mutation on this particular gene, doctors may use
Cancer cells can also have mutations in the IDH1 or IDH2 genes. Having one of these mutations can stop a person’s blood cells from developing properly, which can make them sicker.
BCL-2 is a protein in cancer cells that prolongs their life.
Doctors can prescribe a BCL-2 inhibitor called venetoclax to prevent this. Doctors usually give it to people over 75 who cannot safely receive chemotherapy.
Corticosteroids are a type of anti-inflammatory drug that
Killing cancer cells can also damage healthy cells, causing side effects. The specific medication side effects a person may experience depend on the treatment their doctor prescribes.
Some common side effects include:
- neurotoxicity, which is brain damage that may affect mood, thinking, memory, and personality
- hair loss
- vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea
- skin reactions at the chemotherapy injection site
- damage to the skin in the mouth, including sores and bleeding gums
- increased vulnerability to infections
- higher risk of infection
- weight gain, especially in the face
- osteoporosis, or low bone density
- high blood pressure
- fluid retention that may damage the organs, including the heart
- anxiety and other psychological changes, including aggression
- shortness of breath
- organ damage, such as heart or lung problems
Complementary therapies are remedies designed to add to, not replace, the standard of care for AML. Some options include:
- Psychotherapy: This may help a person manage the challenges of living with AML.
Natural and herbal remedies: A number of natural and plant remedies have shown early promise in lab tests, though not in the human body. These remedies should not replace chemotherapy.
- Mind-body therapies: Mindfulness, meditation, and gentle movement may help ease pain and support people to better manage the emotional challenges of AML.
- Complementary medicine: Complementary medical practices such as acupuncture and aromatherapy could offer some relief, though the research on these interventions has not proven they work.
AML is an aggressive form of cancer, and a person’s
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are important factors in improving a person’s AML outlook.
There is no treatment regimen or medication that works for everyone. While chemotherapy is the primary form of treatment for AML, targeted therapies and corticosteroids can also improve a person’s prognosis.
It is important for a person to consider treatment goals, the odds of success, and the side effects of treatment when weighing options.
Discussing options with a doctor or oncologist can help a person and their loved ones make the right decisions for their quality of life.