Treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Treatment for cancer is either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in one area. Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout your entire body. In most cases, treatment for leukemia is systemic, because cancer cells are in your bloodstream throughout your body.

You may have just one type of treatment or a combination. Different types of treatment have different goals. Here are some of the types of treatment and their goals for adults who have acute myeloid leukemia (AML):


This is the main way to treat AML. Its goal is to kill the cancer cells, putting your disease into remission and keeping it there. Remission is when you have no signs or symptoms of the disease.

Stem cell transplant with high-dose chemotherapy

Your doctor may need to give you very high doses of chemotherapy combined with a stem cell transplant. Doctors remove and freeze blood stem cells, either from you or from a compatible stem cell donor, before giving you high-dose chemotherapy. The stem cells are then infused after treatment to restore your body's lost blood cells. Depending on where the blood stem cells are collected from, this is called peripheral blood stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant.

All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and arsenic trioxide

ATRA and arsenic trioxide are drugs that doctors use to treat a subtype of AML, called acute promyelocytic leukemia. Doctors do not use these treatments for other types of AML. Doctors combine ATRA, which is a relative of vitamin A, with other types of anticancer drugs. Arsenic trioxide can be used either alone or along with ATRA.

Radiation therapy

Because this is a local treatment, it is not used very often for AML. It may be used if the leukemia spreads to the brain, or in rare cases, where there is a specific tumor somewhere in the body.