Madrid, June 20, 2022 – The diagnosis of leukemia has improved remarkably in recent years. Being able to find out and specifically identify which genetic alterations or mutations cause leukemia allows us to personalize the treatment and improve its effectiveness. These alterations vary from one patient to another, depending on the type of leukemia, and will determine their response to treatment. For that reason, on the occasion of European Leukemia Week, which takes place from June 20 to 26, Dr. Adolfo de la Fuente, head of the Hematology and Hemotherapy Service at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, points out that it is essential to know what changes in the genes are behind this cancer and to make an accurate diagnosis in order to provide the most appropriate treatment to each patient.
As he himself explains, “a better understanding of the alterations or mutations that can lead to leukemia is allowing us to make advances in treatments, which translates into better results for people suffering from the disease. Furthermore, such a diagnosis contributes to the development of targeted therapies against some of these mutations that have shown greater effectiveness.” Despite this, the percentage of long-term adult survivors who are diagnosed with acute leukemia remains low. Currently, according to data from the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), more than 6,000 people are diagnosed with leukemia each year1.
Regarding diagnosis, advances in techniques and technology, as well as in the standardization of protocols, make it possible, not only for the diagnosis of the patient to be more accurate, but also faster. "We can quickly obtain much more detailed knowledge of the biology of leukemia, since the time needed to obtain the results is getting shorter, which is important because in acute leukemia time is very valuable" explains Dr. de la Fuente.
A personalized treatment algorithm for each patient
After an accurate diagnosis, the treatment of leukemia, particularly acute leukemia, will depend on the specific type of leukemia and the individual characteristics of the person. As the specialist explains, protocols must be developed and treatment plans adapted to the characteristics of the disease, age of the patient and the response to the prescribed drugs.
“The same treatment should not be used in young people as in elderly people. We must use different treatment strategies. And, depending on the type of leukemia the person is suffering from and the mutations present in the leukemia cells, the treatment will also be different. Once the study of the leukemia is complete, we assess whether the so-called “target therapies” can be incorporated or not, which will depend on whether some of these targets or mutations are present in the leukemia cells”.
Thus, one of the current challenges is to incorporate new drugs into everyday life and use them to improve the cure and survival rates in people diagnosed with leukemia.
Importance of leukemia research
Despite the progress made in diagnosis and treatment, promoting leukemia research continues to be essential in order to give patients a longer life expectancy and attend to their unmet medical needs. Aware of this, MD Anderson Madrid has a Phase I Clinical Trials Unit where one of the research areas is leukemia. Clinical trials are continuously being started with first-line drugs, as the primary treatment option, with drugs for relapses or refractory leukemia.
"Everything that is research, trying to develop new treatment options, new drugs and new combinations is essential to trying to improve the survival expectancy and cure rates of people with acute leukemia in the near future" says the doctor.