Can a Cancer Treatment Increase Your Risk of Leukaemia?

New Cancer Screening Programme In Northern IrelandThere’s no doubt that advancements in cancer treatment have improved the wellbeing of patients with certain cancers, but a study has found there’s still a risk of developing treatment-related leukaemia. Though chemotherapy is often a highly effective treatment for cancer, certain drugs it uses can negatively affect your wellness, and increase your risk of developing therapy-related acute myeloid leukemia (tAML), a rare but frequently fatal condition.

According to Lindsay Morton, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and lead author of the study, ‘In the course of improving interventions and survival rates in many types of cancer, we have learned that certain chemotherapies can cause damage to cells in the bone marrow, increasing a patient’s risk of leukaemia. However, no recent large-scale studies have evaluated how the risk of treatment-related leukaemia has evolved with the changing treatment strategies.’

Hence, Morton and her team from the NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics looked at data from cancer registries in the U.S. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Programme. The researchers identified adult patients between the ages of 20 and 84 who were diagnosed with any type of cancer between 1975 and 2008, and were treated with chemotherapy. In 426,068 patients, 801cases of tAML were confirmed, which is nearly five times more than the number of cases expected in the general population.

The trends of tAML incidences were discovered to be consistent with changing treatment practices and the toxicities associated with certain chemotherapies. The researchers also noted that the proportion of patients receiving chemotherapy, whether with or without radiotherapy, increased during the study period for many malignancies. Yet the database analysis also found that relative tAML risk for many patients tended to decline with increasing time since the initial cancer diagnosis, especially for those with non-haematologic malignancies.

Dr Morton commented, ‘Future studies should identify patients at the highest risk of tAML so that the risks can be weighed against the benefits of chemotherapy, particularly for cancers with favourable long-term survival.’ She added, ‘Further research is also warranted to assess the risks associated with new targeted and immunomodulatory agents by including secondary malignancies such as tAML as endpoints in prospective clinical studies of new agents or new uses of standard agents.’

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