New tests help doctors improve leukemia treatment

Childhood leukemia is about the most heart-breaking disease we have. A new test helps patients gain more insight.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

Childhood leukemia is about the most heart-breaking disease we have. Its technical name is acute lymphocytic leukemia. (Picture from Wikipedia.)

Scientists at M.D. Anderson in Houston have long worked hard to find which of their young patients is likely to stay free of the disease, and which will relapse.

The tool of choice is the complete blood count test (CBC), conducted a month after treatment begins. The number they have looked at most closely is the minimal residual disease (MRD) indicator.

But a new study of past patients shows another test, the absolute lymphocyte count (ALC), can be just as important in some cases.

The MRD test is either positive or negative. The ALC is a number that could be low or could be high.

If the MRD is negative, the study found, the patients would be very likely to survive. But in the past a positive MRD looked like a death sentence.

Not so, writes Patrick Zweidler-McKay. If the MRD is positive, the ALC can be an excellent predictor of what will happen later. Patients he studied with a positive MRD but a low ALC only had a 41% survival rate after five years. Those with a high ALC had a 92% survival rate after five years.

Zweidler-McKay suggests the results may help doctors proceed more aggressively in those cases most likely to relapse, raising the survival rate. For now, the news is a positive MRD is not a death sentence.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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