Researchers make dramatic strides in understanding and treating leukemia

In the past decade, researchers have made dramatic strides in understanding and treating leukemia, according to the April issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Leukemia encompasses several types of cancer of the bone marrow and blood. While often associated with children and young adults, leukemia most commonly occurs in adults over age 60. With chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common type, the average age at diagnosis is 70.

Highlights from the information in Mayo Clinic Health Letter include:

More effective treatments: As recently as the 1990s, only about 55 percent of those with CLL had any response to the drugs used to treat the disease. Only 2 percent of patients went into complete remission. Today, drug combinations used to treat the disease result in a 91 to 95 percent response rate and about 41 to 70 percent rate of complete response.

Easier diagnosis: CLL often progresses slowly and may be present for years without signs or symptoms. For most people, the first sign of CLL is an elevated white blood cell count found in a routine blood test. In the past, a bone marrow biopsy was the only way to confirm a diagnosis. That's changed. Today, for about 90 percent of those with CLL, a blood test called flow cytometry can identify the presence of cancerous blood cells.

More informative diagnosis: Recently, advances in diagnostic tests help provide more information. An array of blood tests looks for specific genes, chromosomes or proteins of cancerous cells that help predict the aggressiveness of the cancer. A disease classified as high risk suggests that treatment will be needed in two to five years; low risk indicates treatment may not be needed for decades. Most patients are diagnosed with CLL at an early stage of the disease and don't need immediate treatment for cancer.

Research into all forms of leukemia continues to advance rapidly. Because therapies are changing quickly, it's wise to seek leukemia treatment from doctors and medical centers that specialize in the disease.


Mayo Clinic Health Letter


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