Why the letters matter
When asked about acute myeloid leukemia (AML), doctors, researchers and patient advocates almost always answer with the same word: devastating.
“Acute myeloid leukemia progresses rapidly with high intensity, and because it is a disease of the bone marrow, it interferes with the production of normal blood cells that are essential for various normal functions,” explains Jalaja Potluri, M.D., medical director, oncology development, AbbVie. Potluri has dedicated her career to pursuing a better understanding of AML and how it overtakes the body. She is working on advancing treatment options available for patients, especially those whose bodies or immune systems may not be able to bounce back from the significant side effects of the standard of care regimen.
“Based on their age, some [AML] patients have difficulty tolerating the regular treatment, which includes intensive chemotherapy and later a bone marrow transplant," Potluri says. “This cancer causes problems throughout the body, resulting in organ impairment, and because the biology of AML is so aggressive, these problems mount quickly affecting all aspects of living a normal life.”
For younger, healthier patients, the chances of getting better through the current standard of care rise significantly. “Earlier in my career when I was a practicing hematologist, I treated a patient who was diagnosed with AML just two months away from his 21st birthday. He had a number of complications as a result of the AML and his particular cancer was very difficult to treat. But he pulled through given his young age, and not only did he celebrate his 21st birthday, he remained my patient for the next 10 years.”
But for the majority of patients diagnosed with AML, the standard of care treatment – strong chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant – is not an option. This is what makes AML so devastating compared to other forms of leukemia. It is an arduous challenge for scientists who have made progress in dosing chemotherapy and found ways to make bone marrow transplants safer for patients. Still, the treatment for AML has not changed significantly in the past two decades, and health care professionals have few answers for patients who can’t tolerate current treatment options. But they aren’t giving up.