WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Feb. 11, 2009 -- Scientists may have found an early warning sign of chronic
lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of leukemia in adults.
That early warning sign is having certain B cells, called monoclonal B
cells, in the blood, maybe even years before CLL is diagnosed.
In leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood, the body overproduces white
blood cells, which don't mature properly and live much longer than normal. CLL
is marked by too many B cells, note the National Cancer Institute's Ola
Landgren, MD, PhD, and colleagues.
Landgren's team studied blood samples provided by 45 CLL patients up to six
years before they knew their CLL diagnosis. The researchers ran two different
tests on the blood samples, looking for monoclonal B cells.
All but one of the patients had monoclonal B cells in their pre-CLL blood
samples, and 41 out of 45 had monoclonal B cells show up on both blood tests --
so monoclonal B cells could be a marker of future CLL.
"We found that the vast majority of patients with CLL have a precursor
state from 6 months to 6 years before the development of clinically recognized
leukemia," Landgren and colleagues write in The New England Journal of
But the researchers aren't recommending routine blood tests to look for
monoclonal B cells. The new study doesn't prove that having monoclonal B cells
always leads to CLL, and more work is needed to learn how CLL develops and how
those monoclonal B cells fit into that process.
Landgren's study is a "timely addition" that may help "open new
doors to the detection, assessment, treatment, and prevention of B-cell
lymphoid cancers," states an editorial published with the study. The
editorialists included Robert Vogt Jr., PhD, of the CDC.
SOURCES:Landgren, O. The New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 12, 2009; vol
360: pp 659-667.Vogt, R. The New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 12, 2009; vol 360:
pp 722-723.WebMD Medical Reference: "Understanding
Leukemia -- the Basics."
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