Gene expression profiling, a molecular technique that analyzes many genes simultaneously, can accurately distinguish between two types of immune cell tumors — Burkitt’s lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) — according to a team of researchers, including several from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Burkitt’s lymphoma and DLBCL cells appear similar when viewed under a microscope but correct diagnosis is critical because each cancer requires very different treatments. Study results appear in the June 8, 2006, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Burkitt’s lymphoma and DLBCL are types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a malignancy of B lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Healthy lymphocytes help destroy bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents invading the body. Burkitt’s lymphoma is seen primarily in children, but can affect adults ages 30 to 50. DLBCL can affect people of any age; it is most often observed in adults 60 years or older. Because both lymphomas can occur in the same age group and patients present similar clinical symptoms, it is often difficult to distinguish these two types of NHL.
“The value of molecular profiling to accurately diagnosis Burkitt’s lymphoma versus DLBCL will have a major impact on patients because the treatment for these two lymphomas is very different,” said Louis Staudt, M.D., Ph.D., deputy chief of the Metabolism Branch and head of the Molecular Biology of Lymphoid Malignancies Section in NCI’s Center of Cancer Research, as well as research team co-leader. “If Burkitt’s patients are treated with intensive therapy, there is roughly an 80 percent survival rate. However, if they are misdiagnosed and treated with the therapy recommended for DLBCL, lower intensity chemotherapy, the survival rate is reversed to 20 percent or even less.”
NCI Media Relations Branch
Message posted by: Rashmi Nemade
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