Chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukaemia

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy leukaemia cells. The drugs travel round the body in the bloodstream. Chemotherapy disrupts the way leukaemia cells grow and divide, but it also affects normal cells.

For people who have just been diagnosed with AML, it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible. Treatment for AML is given in two main phases: induction and consolidation.

Induction chemotherapy

The main aim of treatment for AML is to try to cure it. The first step is to achieve a remission. Remission is when no leukaemia cells can be found in the blood or bone marrow and normal bone marrow has developed again. The treatment given is called induction chemotherapy. Most people have two cycles of induction chemotherapy.

You may be able to go home between treatments if you are well enough. We have more information about the possible side effects of the treatment.

The most commonly used induction chemotherapy drugs are:

Sometimes induction chemotherapy does not destroy all the leukaemia cells. You may be given further cycles of chemotherapy to get the leukaemia into remission.

Consolidation chemotherapy

The aim of consolidation chemotherapy is to get rid of any leukaemia cells that may remain after induction chemotherapy but can’t be seen. It is given to reduce the risk of the leukaemia coming back.

The most commonly used drugs for consolidation chemotherapy are:

Low-dose chemotherapy treatment

If you are not fit enough to have intensive induction therapy or choose not to have it, low-dose chemotherapy may be a treatment option. The chemotherapy drugs may be given by drip (infusion) or by injection under the skin (subcutaneous). You may have this as an outpatient. The common drugs used for this treatment are cytarabine and azacitidine.

The doctors will follow you closely to see how well your leukaemia is responding to the chemotherapy. They will plan what further treatment is necessary depending on how the leukaemia responds.

How chemotherapy is given

Chemotherapy drugs for AML are usually given into a vein (intravenously). This might be by a drip (intravenous infusion) or by injection. Chemotherapy given into a vein goes straight into the bloodstream. This means it can get to all areas of your body. Your treatment is usually given through a central line, PICC line or implantable port.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells in the body. Your doctor will explain if chemotherapy is advised for you.

How do chemotherapy drugs work?

Chemotherapy drugs work by stopping cancer cells reproducing. The drugs can also affect healthy cells, causing side effects.