The most common mode of treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is chemotherapy. Other treatments include targeted therapy and bone marrow transplant. The treatment is decided according to the sub-type of the disease.
The treatment of AML is divided into two phases. They are:
1. Phase 1 - Remission induction therapy: Aim of this treatment phase is to destroy and eliminate the leukemic cells from the blood and bone marrow. In this phase as much of the leukemic cells as possible are destroyed by using chemotherapeutic drugs.
2. Phase 2: Consolidation therapy-This phase of treatment is also called as post-remission therapy, maintenance therapy or intensification. The remaining leukemic cells present in the blood and bone marrow is destroyed during this phase of treatment. This helps to prevent the chances of a relapse.
The standard treatments used in these phases are:
Chemotherapy: This is the most preferred mode of treatment during remission induction therapy. It may also be used for consolidation therapy. Chemotherapy uses certain drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs are given as pills or intravenous infusions. The treatment is given in cycles with a period of rest in between. The treatment can cause certain transient undesirable side effects.
Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy drugs differ from chemotherapy in the way the drugs kill the cells. These drugs can identify and kill cancerous cells without harming normal cells.
Radiation therapy: Here high energy X-rays and/or types of radiations are used to target and kill cancer cells. External radiation therapy which uses a machine like an X-ray to send radiations and kill cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy involves infusion of radioactive material into the body near cancer cells through needles, catheter tubes etc. External radiation therapy is more commonly used in AML treatment.
Bone Marrow Transplant: Bone marrow transplant (BMT) is effective in treating certain types of AML. Prior to a bone marrow transplant, the diseased bone marrow is removed through chemotherapy and radiation. A healthy bone marrow sourced from a donor (Allogenic BMT) or self(Autologous BMT) is then transferred into the bone marrow spaces. This healthy bone marrow then starts producing normal blood cells. A bone marrow transplant procedure is a complex one and requires an extended stay in the hospital. Anti-transplant rejection medicines will have to be taken for the rest of one’s life. Since these medicines tend to decrease the immunity of the body, care must be taken to avoid infections. Allogenic BMT from a donor is the preferred option in the treatment of AML. Chances of success are high when the donor is closely related by blood like a sibling or parent.