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Research into genes and finding leukaemia cells

Read about the latest UK research looking at the causes and diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

Finding causes

Researchers are trying to find out more about the causes of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Doctors are studying genes that may be important in the development of CLL and asking people with CLL about their family history.

Doctors are interested in identifing genes that could increase the risk of CLL.

Studying cells

Doctors are looking at the abnormal white blood cells (lymphocytes) found in the blood of people with diseases like CLL. Scientists are trying to understand how a particular gene helps these abnormal cells to survive.

The information from this research could help to find better treatments for people with CLL and other types of cancer in the future.

Antibiotics and symptoms

CLL can develop very slowly and doctors usually only treat it if you have symptoms. We don't know what causes symptoms to develop but researchers think it may be due to infections.

Doctors want to find out if stopping people with CLL getting infections could make it take longer for them to develop symptoms. Then people could wait longer to have treatment. 

Doctors are looking into giving a short course of antibiotics to people with early CLL to see if it helps to prevent symptoms. 

Finding remaining leukaemia cells

Specialists know that very small numbers of leukaemia cells can be left behind, even if you seem to have been successfully treated.

The numbers are so small that the usual blood and bone marrow tests cannot pick them up. This is called minimal residual disease (MRD).

Some studies are looking at new ways of detecting whether there are leukaemia cells left behind after the leukaemia appears to have gone (remission).

One way of doing this is by using a test called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR looks for genetic changes in cells.

This test can find one leukaemia cell among a million normal cells. PCR can help doctors to find out how effective your chemotherapy has been in killing off all your chronic leukaemia cells.

This test can help to tell the doctor how quickly your leukaemia is likely to come back (relapse).

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