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Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) treatment

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Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) side effects

There are many long-term and short-term side effects of treatment. Here's a guide to the most common ones.

Different people have different responses to their treatment. Even if two patients are receiving the same course of treatment, they might have a different experience. So you might not get all, or even any, of these side effects – try to bear this in mind when reading about them. If you have any questions, you might like to discuss it with your healthcare team. We cannot list every possible side effect here, so if you experience any side effects, do tell your doctor or nurse.

We also have some important information on staying safe if you’ve got blood cancer, covering things like risk of infection and vaccinations.

Information for young adults

For young adults with leukaemia, lymphoma or any blood cancer type. Your guide to treatment, side effects, coping with emotions, friends and work or study.

Short-term side effects of intensive treatment

Short-term side effects can last for a few days or weeks – for some people they last for the length of their treatment.

Typical short-term side effects include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting: these symptoms can be well-managed – you’ll receive anti-sickness drugs so this isn’t usually a problem for many patients
  • loss of taste – which can lower your appetite
  • hair loss – some patients consider wearing a wig during this time but ask your healthcare team about different options
  • diarrhoea – this symptom is common but can be well-managed with tablets
  • infections – all patients with AML will at some point get infections which will require time on antibiotics in hospital
  • rashes
  • damage to organs – such as the kidneys, liver or lungs
  • nerve damage, which may last for longer – this is a rare symptom.

As well as killing the leukaemia cells in your bloodstream, intensive treatment for AML will also reduce the number of healthy blood cells that your bone marrow produces. To combat this, you’ll have regular blood and platelet transfusions to top up your blood with healthy cells.

Long-term side effects of intensive treatment

Long-term side effects can last for months or years. Some may not even occur until years after treatment has finished – these are known as late effects.


You might be worried about the effect of your treatment on your fertility. It’s a common concern that many patients have, and one that also impacts on their partners and families too. If you’re having treatment for AML at an age when you’re thinking about having children or you think you might like to have children in the future, then it’s a good idea to discuss the options for protecting your fertility with your doctor.

Some chemotherapy drugs may have a temporary effect on fertility. Permanent infertility is most likely in patients who’ve had a stem cell transplant after high doses of chemotherapy or whole body irradiation.

It’s natural to worry about the effects of treatment on any children you might have after your treatment. Lots of evidence from clinical studies has shown that any cancer treatment a parent has doesn’t lead to an increased risk of cancer or other health problems in their children.

Developing other conditions

It’s possible for people to develop other cancers and blood disorders due to their treatment for AML. This can affect 2–5% of patients. This usually occurs five to eight years after treatment.

Modern treatment methods have been designed to reduce the use of drugs and radiotherapy which cause secondary conditions, meaning that the risks of developing these conditions are now much lower.

Heart damage

Anthracyclines are a group of chemotherapy drugs used to treat AML. These drugs join with the DNA in your cells and damage the DNA’s structure. They’re especially effective against cells which divide quickly, like cancer cells.

Anthracyclines can cause damage to your heart. However, this side effect is uncommon because healthcare teams are careful to limit the doses you have.

Side effects of non-intensive treatment

The main side effects of non-intensive treatment include:

  • being more vulnerable to infections
  • fatigue
  • being more prone to bleeding and bruising.

Some of the other side effects of non-intensive treatment are similar to those for intensive treatment, but they’ll be much milder or they may not happen at all. They include:

  • milder nausea
  • chance of hair loss
  • problems with your gut.

You’ll see your healthcare team regularly, so if you’re having any side effects you should tell them, as they might be able to help you cope.

Anna's story

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Anna's story

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]