Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Options

“Each leukemia patient has molecular combinations that are specific to his or her disease... we hope to move away from the 'one-therapy-fits-all' approach and implement personalized medicine.”

Guido Marcucci, M.D., Co-director, Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research

Your cancer is every bit as unique as you are, and that is why treatment at City of Hope is focused around you and your loved ones.

This means our physicians will personally consult with you about your disease, treatment options and desired outcomes. We will also analyze your specific cancer for genetic and molecular markers that can guide us to more effective therapies. Afterward, our multidisciplinary team will work together to discuss, design and deliver an individual treatment plan to best meet those goals.

The innovative treatments we use to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML) include drug therapy, radiation therapy and bone marrow/stem cell transplantation.

Drug Therapy

Drug therapy may be given to patients to fight AML cells throughout the body by killing them or stopping their growth and spread. These drugs include:

  • Chemotherapy, which targets rapidly-dividing cells, including AML cells
  • Targeted therapy, which selectively identifies and attacks AML based on specific markers expressed by the cancerous cells
  • Immunotherapy, which stimulates the patient’s own immune system to attack AML cells

For AML, drug treatment is usually divided into several phases:

  • Induction phase to kill leukemia cells throughout the bloodstream and bone marrow
  • Consolidation phase to kill any remaining leukemia cells after induction therapy
  • For certain AML subtypes, a maintenance phase of low-dose cancer-fighting drugs may be given for several months or years afterward to minimize risk of disease relapse.

Drugs may also be prescribed to treat conditions related to AML or its treatments, such as low blood cell counts, nausea or pain.

The drug or drug combination used depends on the AML subtype, previous treatments used, the patient’s health and overall treatment goals. This personalized medicine approach also evaluates AML cells’ molecular and genetic makeup, which can help identify treatments that are more effective and with fewer side effects.

City of Hope has a wide portfolio of cancer-fighting drugs available in its on-site pharmacy, allowing our medical oncologists to plan and prescribe a drug regimen that can best fight AML while minimizing side effects.

In addition to standard drug treatments, patients may also be eligible for new, promising drugs through our clinical trials program.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses focused, high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells.

For AML, radiation is typically used in the following manner:

  • To treat AML cells that have accumulated in specific areas of the body, such as the brain or the spleen
  • Before a stem cell transplant to help kill AML cells throughout the bone marrow and body
  • To treat symptoms caused by AML, such as bone pain

City of Hope is a leader in the use of radiation to treat cancers. Our advanced technologies and experienced staff can plan and deliver radiation precisely to the bone marrow, where AML originates, while sparing nearby organs and tissues. This results in fewer radiation-associated side effects while maintaining excellent clinical outcomes.

Bone Marrow / Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell transplantation allows doctors to deliver greater doses of radiation and drugs to fight AML. After the high-intensity treatments, patients are infused with blood stem cells that will grow and mature in the bone marrow, restoring their blood-forming functions.

The stem cells may be from another donor (allogeneic transplant) or the patient’s own cells (autologous transplant).

City of Hope is one of the world’s largest and most successful bone marrow and stem cell transplant centers. Our Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute is a leader in setting standards for this lifesaving procedure, improving outcomes for AML patients of all ages.

Highlights of our transplant program include:

  • Recognition as an “overperforming” transplant center for 11 consecutive years by The Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research Center
  • One of the first and most experienced centers to use nonmyeloablative (mini) transplants, which allows a greater range of patients (particularly those too weak to tolerate a standard transplant) to be treated with this lifesaving therapy
  • Integration of transplant and nontransplant therapies, so there is a smoother transition of treatments for AML patients who will eventually need a stem cell transplant
  • Experience in treating a wide range of AML cases, including advance disease and higher risk patients
  • A long-term, follow-up program that monitors for late effects and provide timely interventions