Serena S
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Study shows genetic testing can predict relapse in childhood cancer

Serena S
Posted by
09 Jun 2010

A study by researchers at Newcastle University has shown that the presence of certain chromosomal abnormalities in leukaemic cells strongly indicate how children with leukaemia will respond to treatment.

This knowledge will enable doctors to more accurately predict a child’s prognosis and adjust their treatment accordingly. 

The study, which monitored 1700 children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) for an average of eight years from the start of treatment, identified five genetic ‘markers’ in children that had a clear association with a poor risk of survival if they relapsed after chemotherapy.

The team, based at the Newcastle Cancer Centre at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, also showed that two other chromosomal abnormalities were associated with a significantly better response to treatment. 

The research, which was funded by blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, will be published online on 22 April in the journal The Lancet Oncology. 

Dr Anthony Moorman, who led the research said: “This study shows that not only does the genetic make-up of the child’s leukaemia predict the likelihood of a relapse, but also how they are likely to respond to further treatment.” 

“We can now predict that if a child has a good risk genetic profile then even if they do relapse they are more likely to respond well to additional treatment.  Conversely if a patient has a poor risk genetic profile then not only are they more likely to relapse but they are more likely to suffer a high risk relapse. ”

The study found that approximately 60% of children have one of the two genetic markers that are associated with a good overall outcome and reduced risk of relapse. However, approximately 10% of children have one of five genetic subtypes, which are associated with a poorer overall outcome and an increased risk of relapse.

Although some of these subtypes have been identified before, this study, one of the most comprehensive of its kind, firmly establishes their prognostic relevance for future children with ALL.

Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research said: “This is a very important study. As a result of this research doctors will be able to personalise treatment for a greater number of children with leukaemia to ensure they have the best chance of survival.”