Finishing treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a milestone. It can be a great relief to finally be done with your cancer therapy and able to get back to your life.
If your cancer hasn’t gone into remission, your doctor may put your treatment on pause instead of end it. Some people will need long-term treatment to keep their cancer under control.
If your cancer has gone into remission, you’ll need regular follow-ups with your doctor. During these visits, your doctor will check your overall health and look for signs that your cancer has come back.
Here’s an idea of what to expect after cancer treatment.
Treatments for AML
AML is divided into different subtypes. Your AML subtype will determine which treatment you get, and your outlook. Before deciding on a treatment for you, your doctor will do blood or bone marrow tests to find out which AML subtype you have.
AML treatment comes in two phases: induction and consolidation.
During the induction phase, you’ll get high doses of chemotherapy drugs. The goal is to kill as many cancer cells as possible.
If you have a mutation in the FLT3 gene, you may also get the targeted drug, midostaurin (Rydapt). This medication works by blocking the proteins on cancer cells that help them grow.
Consolidation treatment aims to kill any cancer cells that remain and prevent your cancer from relapsing. It can include more chemotherapy, or a stem cell transplant, which replaces damaged blood cells with healthy ones from yourself or a donor.
While chemotherapy and other treatments kill cancer cells, they also damage healthy cells. This damage can cause side effects such as:
- hair loss
- mouth sores
- nausea and vomiting
- increased risk for infections
- bruising and bleeding
Most chemotherapy side effects will go away after you stop treatment. Yet these drugs can also cause long-term health issues that can last many months or years after your treatment ends. These include:
- lung problems
- heart problems
- fertility loss
- weakened bones
- hearing loss
- nerve damage
- memory issues
- depression and anxiety
- another cancer
Talk to your doctor about these risks.
Palliative care can help you manage any side effects you experience. This includes relaxation techniques, emotional support, and medication to relieve symptoms. Palliative treatments can help you feel better both during and after your cancer therapy.
If your cancer comes back
The goal of cancer treatment is to put you into remission. This means that tests show no signs of your cancer. But even if you do go into remission, your cancer can come back in the future. AML that has the FLT3 gene mutation is more likely to relapse than other types of this cancer.
After your treatment is finished, you’ll see your doctor for regular follow-up visits. You may need to continue getting treatment long term to keep your AML under control.
At first, these visits may be scheduled once a week or once a month. Over time, you can stretch out the visits to every few months or once a year, but you’ll likely need to continue seeing your doctor for a few years.
During each exam, your doctor may:
- ask about your symptoms
- monitor for side effects of your treatment
- take blood or bone marrow samples
- look for signs that your cancer has returned
If your cancer does come back, your doctor will discuss next steps with you.
In between visits, let your doctor know if you have symptoms like these:
- bruising or bleeding
- bone pain
- swollen lymph nodes
- trouble breathing
Although many conditions can cause these symptoms, they could also be signs of a relapse.
No special diet or fitness plan will prevent your cancer from coming back. But there are a few things you can do to stay healthy after your treatment and lower your odds of developing complications in the future.
Eat a well-balanced diet
Cancer treatment can affect your appetite and change the way food tastes. You might have lost weight that you need to gain back.
Work with a dietitian to ensure you’re getting enough fat, protein, calories, and other nutrients to keep up your strength. If you’re overweight, discuss ways to get back to a healthy weight.
Get more activity
Once you feel up to it, try to exercise. Walking and other physical activities will give you more energy, improve your mood, and help you regain your strength after treatment. Start slowly and increase your activity level gradually as you feel up to it.
The chemicals in cigarette smoke increase the risk of getting AML and reduce your odds of surviving cancer. A variety of methods can help you quit, from medication to therapy to nicotine replacement products. Ask your doctor for a recommendation.
Ask for emotional support
Going through cancer treatment can be very difficult and cause you to feel anxious. Take care of yourself during this time. Lean on friends, family, and your medical team. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find comfort through an AML support group or talk to a therapist.
Treatment for AML can take many months or even years. Once you finish treatment, it can take some time to get back into your normal routine. Take it slowly and give yourself a chance to re-acclimate.
Keep in touch with your medical team throughout the recovery process. Let them know if you have any problems or symptoms you’re concerned about.