The outlook for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia has improved in the past 30 years. Unlike other cancers, much of this progress is attributable to refinement of supportive treatment, rather than the introduction of new drugs. New antibacterial and antifungal agents, antiemetics, and improved transfusion support have decreased the rate of early death, and morbidity and mortality from allogeneic stem cell transplantation has been substantially reduced. However, more than half of young adult patients and about 90% of older patients still die from their disease. Refractoriness to initial induction treatment and, more frequently, relapse after complete remission, are still the main obstacles to cure. Accordingly, new treatment approaches with mechanisms of action different from those of conventional chemotherapy are needed. Our knowledge of the various chromosomal and molecular abnormalities implicated in the pathogenesis of the many subtypes of the disease has greatly expanded; as a result, clinical research is moving towards the investigation of new non-cytotoxic agents in combination with chemotherapy. The goal is to target the molecular abnormalities identified at diagnosis; however, several aberrations can coexist in subclones of acute myeloid leukaemia, making the disease less likely to be inhibited by a single agent.
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