Taking Charge of Your Health after AML
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer. Another name for it is acute myelogenous leukemia. AML is the most common acute leukemia affecting adults. Although AML can occur at any age, adults age 60 years and older are more likely to develop the disease than younger people. Advances in the treatment of AML have resulted in improved remission rates. The number of people with AML who have gone into remission or have been cured increases each year.
The Importance of Follow-Up Care
Medical follow-up is important for every AML survivor. Follow-up care helps your doctor see if the disease has recurred or relapsed, and enables your doctor to evaluate you for long-term and late effects.
Long-term effects are side effects of AML treatment that may last for months or years after treatment ends. Fatigue is an example of a long-term side effect. In children, learning skills may be affected. Late effects are side effects of treatment that may not show up until years after treatment ends. Heart disease is an example of a possible late side effect. Not everyone who is treated for AML develops long-term or late effects. It depends on the person’s age, overall health, and their specific treatment.
Children and adults who have been treated for AML should see their primary care doctors and their hematologist- oncologists (cancer specialists) regularly for follow-up care. AML survivors should talk with their doctor about how often to have follow-up visits. You can ask your doctor what tests will be needed and determine how often you should have these tests. It is important to get and keep a record of your cancer treatments, including the drugs you received and the time period you received them, so that your doctor can follow up on specific long-term effects that may be associated with your treatment.
Follow-up care includes physical exams and blood tests. Sometimes bone marrow tests are also needed. Your doctor may advise longer periods of time between follow-up visits. This will happen if you continue to be free of signs of AML or do not need medical care for any long-term or late side effects.
Questions for Your Doctor
Asking questions will help you take an active role in managing your (or your loved one’s) care. If you do not understand any part of the information your healthcare provider gives you, ask him or her to explain it in another way. Here are some questions you may want to ask your healthcare team about your follow-up care plan.
- Who should I work with to ensure lifelong follow up care?
- Will I continue to see this same healthcare team?
- What information can be provided to my primary doctor about past treatment and what may be needed in the future?
Taking Care of Yourself
During and after treatment for AML, it is important that you take care of your physical health, as well as your mental and emotional well-being.
- Keep all appointments with your doctor.
- Discuss how you feel with the doctor at each visit. Ask any questions you may have about side effects.
- Follow your doctor’s advice for preventing infection. People with AML may have more infections than other people.
- Contact your doctor about tiredness, fever, or any other symptoms.
- Eat healthy food each day. It is OK to eat four or five small meals instead of three big ones.
- Do not smoke. People who smoke should get help to quit.
- Get enough rest and exercise. Talk with your doctor about starting an exercise program.
- Keep a healthcare file with copies of lab reports and treatment records.
- Have regular cancer screenings. See your primary care doctor to keep up with other healthcare needs.
- Talk with family and friends about how you feel. When family and friends know about AML and its treatment, they may worry less.
- Seek medical advice if you feel sad or depressed and your mood does not improve over time. For example, if you feel sad or depressed every day for a two-week period, seek help. Depression is an illness. It can and should be treated even when a person is being treated for AML. Treatment for depression has benefits for people living with cancer.
Excerpted with permission from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society booklet The AML Guide: Information for Patients and Caregivers. For free information on blood cancers, contact The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Information Specialists at (800) 955-4572 or visit LLS.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2021.