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Some form of chemotherapy will be part of the treatment plan for almost all patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), whether or not they go on to receive a transplant. Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses a group of medicines that destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing.

There are typically two phases of chemotherapy for AML:

Induction chemotherapy

Most patients with AML are given induction chemotherapy. The goal is to bring the disease into remission. Induction therapy is usually intense. Though the chemotherapy typically lasts about one week, it may take three or more weeks in the hospital to recover from the treatment. After induction chemotherapy, the next step may be a transplant or consolidation chemotherapy, depending on the treatment plan.

Consolidation chemotherapy

Consolidation therapy is the standard treatment at first remission, and it is also intense. It consists of monthly treatments with recovery time in between. The whole series of treatment may last several months. The goal of this therapy is to lower the number of or, eliminate, diseased cells left in the body.

Relapsed disease

Induction therapy brings about a remission in most patients, but over time some patients will relapse (return of the disease). Patients who relapse after chemotherapy may be treated with different chemotherapy drugs and/or more intense doses. Patients who relapse soon after remission or who fail to have a remission after initial induction treatment have high-risk disease. For these patients, a referral to a transplant doctor is necessary because a second round of chemotherapy is less likely to bring about long-term remission. A bone marrow or cord blood transplant may be the best option for a cure or long-term remission.

Learn more about transplant and other treatment options.