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What Can I Expect During Treatment?

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Published on March 1, 2021

Managing Expectations for AML Treatment

In the fifth episode of a nine-part podcast series, Dr. Daniel Pollyea, MD, Clinical Director of Leukemia Services at the University of Colorado, discusses beginning acute myeloid leukemia treatment and how important it is for AML patients and care partners to be educated on the time commitment, decision-making process, and possible treatment side effects that accompany AML therapy. Dr. Pollyea also gives advice on managing your expectations and emphasizes that even though there will be bad days, things do get better.

Support for this series has been provided by AbbVie, Inc. and Genentech, Inc. Patient Power maintains complete editorial control and is solely responsible for program content.


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Transcript | What Can I Expect During Treatment?

Dr. Pollyea: Hi, everybody. My name is Dan Pollyea. I'm an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado, where I'm the Clinical Director of Leukemia Services and I see a lot of AML patients. I'm here today to answer the question of, “What can you expect with respect to treatment when first getting started?” This will obviously depend a great deal on what type of treatment you and your doctor decide upon, but in general, I think there's a couple of different concepts that are important to keep in mind.

What Are the Side Effects of AML Treatment?

The first is that side effects are expected with any treatment that you select. It will be an important part of your educational process to understand what those expected side effects are. Many times, they include some gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, or other issues like diarrhea, or even constipation. They can also cause things like fatigue or just more listlessness. Then there can also be some infectious complications associated with any treatment.

Again, the degree of these side effects is going to be dictated by which treatment a person gets. As a general rule, most side effects are worse soon after starting a therapy. And we think that that has a lot to do with first, just adjusting to this new reality of being treated and your body taking some time to make that adjustment, but also, there's the factor that ideally if this therapy is effective, which we very much hope it will be, that it will kill literally trillions of leukemia cells very quickly. And that can cause a good deal of chaos in your body, and that chaos can be reflected with different side effects. So, we would not want a person to assume that the way they feel in the first couple of days of starting a treatment is the way that they're going to feel for several weeks or months, that that's their new normal.

What Can I Expect After Beginning Treatment for AML?

And it's really important to remember that even when there are bad days, that those are usually very temporary and getting through those difficult days comes with much better days around the corner. And so it's important, really, to keep that in the forefront of your mind, knowing and expecting what's coming with these different treatments.

I think for the most part, the general concept I'd like to leave people with is that we have lots of good strategies to mitigate or minimize or even prevent a lot of the known side effects and that it really is important to work with your team to have a good understanding of what to expect, because I think that also prepares you mentally and physically for some of the side effects that can occur. But big-picture-wise, I think we've come a long, long way with making the treatments that are available for AML much better tolerated. And a lot of the treatments we have to prevent and mitigate side effects have also made a lot of really great advances, and so I would be very optimistic in general that people can very much tolerate the treatments that are chosen for them.