Summary. Red-cell transfusions are required for symptomatic treatment of severe anaemia caused by intensive chemotherapy. Concerns about the transfusion-related complications, such as infections (e.g. the very low risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission and the risk of postoperative infections), haemolytic transfusion reaction, immunological effects and the costs, prompt a reevaluation of the transfusion practice. Retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data on 84 patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), who were treated with combination chemotherapy between June 1, 1997 and December 7, 2001, was performed. The use of red-cell transfusions with a restrictive transfusion policy (haemoglobin = 7·2–8·8 g dL−1, dependent on age and symptoms, n = 38) was compared with a more liberal transfusion trigger (haemoglobin = 9·6 g dL−1, n = 46). The number of units transfused was recorded. Signs and symptoms of anaemia, chemotherapy-related effects and complications were investigated for both transfusion policies. The more restrictive transfusion policy led to a significant decrease of 11% of red blood cell (RBC) transfusions in patients with AML. No significant differences were found in the incidence of infections, number of platelet units transfused, bleeding complications, cardiac symptoms or response to chemotherapy. The more restrictive transfusion policy was feasible in this clinical setting, and it might be concluded that a restrictive transfusion policy is safe in supporting clinical patients treated with intensive chemotherapy for AML.