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Relapse occurs when AML returns after a patient has reached complete remission. Relapse can occur at any time after initial treatment, from several months to years, and can happen for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Your initial treatment may not kill all leukemia cells.
  • Low levels of leukemia cells can go undetected and multiply over time.
  • Leukemia cells can spread to different parts of the body, which may not have been detected.

Disease relapse can be spotted during regular check-ups, which are important for early detection. If your AML comes back, your leukemia specialist can outline the possible next steps for you in terms of treatment, coping strategies, and quality of life. Read more about the treatment options available for patients who experience relapse here.

Refractory AML

AML can also be treatment-refractory, meaning that it does not respond fully to anti-leukemia therapy, and complete remission is not achieved. Refractory AML is diagnosed when abnormal leukemia cells are still observed in the blood or bone marrow after two cycles of chemotherapy, which is detected using a blood test or bone marrow biopsy. You can find out more about refractory AML in the Know AML animation below.


Leukaemia Care. Relapse in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) Published Jan 2019. Accessed Mar 31, 2021.

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What is AML?Causes & symptomsDiagnosisTypesTreatmentPrognosisRemissionRelapseCOVID-19Caregivers

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Hear from Eileen about her experience of caring for someone with acute myeloid leukemia.

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