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Understanding the Status of Your Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Most types of cancer are staged to communicate the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread. But leukemia rarely causes tumors. And because it is in your bone marrow and blood, it has already spread all over your body. With leukemia, doctors use different terms to describe the response of the leukemia to treatment:

  • Untreated acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Your doctor has just diagnosed your AML. Your complete blood count (CBC) is abnormal. You have more than 20% immature white blood cells, called blasts, in your bone marrow. And you probably have symptoms of leukemia, such as fatigue, fever, nosebleeds, or bruising. You have not been treated except to ease these symptoms.  

  • Complete remission. You have received treatment for AML and all evidence of the disease has disappeared. During this phase, your CBC is normal, you have less than 5% blasts in your bone marrow, and you have no signs or symptoms of leukemia anywhere in your body.

  • Minimal residual disease. Your AML appears to be in remission, but very sensitive lab tests are still able to detect leukemia cells in the bone marrow. Your AML may be more likely to relapse, so you may benefit from further treatment to try to kill the remaining cells.

  • Refractory AML. The leukemia has not gone away and is not responding to treatment. 

  • Recurrent AML, also called relapse. Your leukemia has returned after a period of remission. Your CBC often becomes abnormal again, and you have at least 5% blasts in your bone marrow. Because initial treatment has failed, your doctor has to consider a new treatment plan to bring you back into remission.


Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
Last Review Date: 12/23/2013
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