New test predicts survival in blood cancer patients

July 9, 2014
New test predicts survival in blood cancer patients

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have developed a test which accurately predicts the prognosis for patients with the most common form of leukaemia.

The findings could also inform the development of a prognostic test for patients with other forms of cancer.

Researchers from the School of Medicine used pioneering techniques for measuring the length and function of known as 'telomeres' – repeating sections of DNA found at the ends of .

They used these techniques to determine if the telomeres were working or not in cells from patients with (CLL). Patients with short dysfunctional telomeres displayed a considerably poorer clinical outcome compared to those with long and functional telomeres.

The study, which was funded by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and Cancer Research UK, is published online in the British Journal of Haematology.

CLL affects white blood cells in the bone marrow, causing a range of problems with the immune system. It is diagnosed in over 4,000 people a year in the UK and is currently incurable for most patients.

Professor Chris Pepper, who led the research at Cardiff University's School of Medicine, said: "For the first time, confident predictions of clinical outcome can be made for individual CLL patients at diagnosis based on accurate analysis of the length of telomeres in cancer cells. This should prove enormously valuable to doctors, patients and their families and there is no reason why there should not be widespread implementation of this powerful prognostic tool in the near future."

Giving patients an accurate prognosis has been a significant challenge for doctors. While some patients survive for just a few months after diagnosis, others can live for many decades and some may never need treatment. Predicting whether an individual patient's disease is likely to be aggressive or not will help doctors choose the most appropriate and effective treatment course.

Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: "The accuracy of this test in predicting how a person's disease will develop is unprecedented and, if confirmed in clinical trials, would help doctors decide on the best treatment courses for individual CLL patients. Telomeres are known to play a part in the progress of other forms of cancer, so this type of testing could have far-reaching benefits."

The progression of CLL and other cancers is known to be sped up by the loss of telomeres, which cap the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage when a cell divides. Every time a cell divides, telomeres get shorter and when they get too short in a healthy cell, signals are sent to the cell to stop dividing and die. This 'safety check' does not kick in in CLL cells.

Telomeres become so short in CLL cells that chromosomes are left exposed and are prone to fusing together during cell division, causing even larger DNA faults and even greater instability.

Henry Scowcroft, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "These promising findings need to be confirmed in larger trials, but being able to work out an accurate outlook for someone with CLL would help doctors tailor treatment more effectively. It could also have an important psychological benefit for patients who have just been told they have cancer.

"One of the most difficult aspects of a cancer diagnosis to cope with can be the waiting and uncertainty, and anything that could help patients plan their lives and immediate futures can only be a good thing."

The Cardiff researchers initially identified the critical telomere length at which fusions start to occur in samples from 200 CLL patients. They used a technology called Single Telomere Length Analysis (STELA). Telomere length was then checked against corresponding records of patient outcome. Just 13% of patients assigned to the poor group were found to be alive after 10 years, compared to 91% of patients whose disease had been classified as being slow developing. These findings were then independently confirmed in a second cohort of 121 CLL .

Explore further: What makes some cancers more deadly?

Related Stories

What makes some cancers more deadly?

April 23, 2014
A Flinders University researcher is searching for answers as to why some leukaemia sufferers live a normal lifespan while others succumb to the disease within months.

New potential treatment opportunities for leukemia patients

April 14, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—The long-term survival of people suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) could be increased with the development of new therapeutic strategies.

Phase 3 study strengthens support of ibrutinib as second-line therapy for CLL

May 31, 2014
In a head-to-head comparison of two Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs for the treatment of relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), ibrutinib significantly outperformed ofatumumab as a second-line therapy, according ...

Telomere length influences cancer cell differentiation

June 27, 2013
Researchers from the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research in Tokyo have discovered that forced elongation of telomeres (extensions on the end of chromosomes) promotes the differentiation of cancer cells, probably reducing ...

Researchers develop new approach to chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment

March 14, 2014
Dartmouth researchers have developed a novel and unique approach to treating Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), a form of blood cancer that often requires repeated chemotherapy treatments to which it grows resistant. The ...

Recommended for you

Cancer-death button gets jammed by gut bacterium

July 27, 2017
Researchers at Michigan Medicine and in China showed that a type of bacterium is associated with the recurrence of colorectal cancer and poor outcomes. They found that Fusobacterium nucleatum in the gut can stop chemotherapy ...

Researchers release first draft of a genome-wide cancer 'dependency map'

July 27, 2017
In one of the largest efforts to build a comprehensive catalog of genetic vulnerabilities in cancer, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified more than 760 genes ...

Long-sought mechanism of metastasis is discovered in pancreatic cancer

July 27, 2017
Cells, just like people, have memories. They retain molecular markers that at the beginning of their existence helped guide their development. Cells that become cancerous may be making use of these early memories to power ...

Manmade peptides reduce breast cancer's spread

July 27, 2017
Manmade peptides that directly disrupt the inner workings of a gene known to support cancer's spread significantly reduce metastasis in a mouse model of breast cancer, scientists say.

Blocking the back-door that cancer cells use to escape death by radiotherapy

July 27, 2017
A natural healing mechanism of the body may be reducing the efficiency of radiotherapy in breast cancer patients, according to a new study.

Glowing tumor technology helps surgeons remove hidden cancer cells

July 27, 2017
Surgeons were able to identify and remove a greater number of cancerous nodules from lung cancer patients when combining intraoperative molecular imaging (IMI) - through the use of a contrast agent that makes tumor cells ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.