Why do some leukemia patients relapse?

April 4, 2017

Seth Karol, MD, and Mary Relling, PharmD

Seth Karol, MD (at left), and Mary Relling, PharmD

Pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is one of the 20th century’s cancer success stories. Today, about 94 percent of children with ALL become long-term survivors. Some patients, however, still relapse and die of their disease.

Research suggests ancestry plays a role in why some cancer returns.

St. Jude researchers recently led a study to better understand the role inherited genetic variation plays in relapse. They used a library of more than 11 million gene variants to screen patient DNA. The scientists found four associated with relapse and ancestry.

“These genetic variants were markers of patients at high risk of relapse regardless of ancestry, but they were twice as common in patients with African and American Indian ancestry as in Europeans,” said Seth Karol, MD, of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center. The four variants identified more than half of African-American and Hispanic patients who relapsed.

“Going forward, it will be important to track the contribution of these four genetic variants to relapse risk to determine if they can help guide treatment intensity,” Karol said. The study was published in the journal Leukemia.

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