We administered recombinant granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) (120 micrograms/m2/d by continuous intravenous [IV] infusion) to 12 patients with newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at relatively high risk of early death during remission induction. GM-CSF began 3 days after completion of induction chemotherapy (ara-C 1.5 g/m2 d x 4 days by continuous IV infusion after a 3 g/m2 bolus). Rates of fatal infection (42%), pneumonia and/or sepsis (83%), and CR (50%) did not differ significantly (P less than .05) from those observed after administration of the identical chemotherapy without GM-CSF to 53 historical controls with newly diagnosed AML at similarly high risk of early death. There were no significant differences between the GM-CSF-treated and the historical groups in the time required to reach neutrophil counts of 500 or 1,000/microL after administration of chemotherapy. Four patients died of infection before they could have benefited from the earliest recovery of neutrophil count observed in patients who entered CR. Growth of leukemia after GM-CSF administration was observed in only 1 of the 8 patients who survived long enough for response to induction therapy to be fully evaluated. This observation suggests that it might be safe to undertake larger, randomized studies, perhaps using earlier administration of GM-CSF, to definitively determine the role of GM-CSF added to chemotherapy in patients with newly diagnosed AML.