Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today, and apparently one type of cancer could be inevitable for many. Researchers are saying that with age, many cannot shy away from developing leukemia.

BBC news reports on the study. Researchers have found that due to the way that people age, it is inevitable that their blood will take the first steps towards leukemia.

Leukemia is usually associated with children, but some forms of it become more common with age, therefore making elderly people at a higher risk of developing it. The study, which was recently published in the journal Cell Reports, showed 70% of healthy elderly people had genetic errors that could end up progressing to leukemia.

BBC news explains,

“The researchers warn that the number of cases could soar as life expectancy increases. The team at the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, outside Cambridge, analyzed the blood of 4,219 people. They focused on accurately testing for errors in the DNA that are linked to the blood cancers. If one blood cell in a hundred carried such a mutation they would pick it up. The results were a surprise. They suggest 20% of people in their 50s have potentially cancerous mutations rising to 70% in people in their 90s.”

How does blood growth occur?

Blood is manufactured by stem cells in the bone marrow. Cells do not easily become cancerous; it takes more than one mutation to transform one from a normal cell into a cancerous one.

If there are enough mutations it can dominate the development of blood either producing defective blood cells, or one just one type to the exclusion of others. The scientists believe that searching the blood for these types of mutations may help identify people at high risk of developing leukemia these people may, in the future, be prescribed with preventative therapies.

Dr. Kat Arney, from Cancer Research UK, told BBC news,

“We know that the risk of developing most types of cancer increases with age. This is a fascinating and important study highlighting how the genetic makeup of blood cells changes as we get older, and may contribute to the development of leukemia. It will be interesting to see if this kind of technique can be applied to other types of cancer too.”

How common is the advancement of leukemia today?

Despite the fact that progression to leukemia is actually rare, the experts believe it could become more common as life expectancy increases in the coming years.

How much is life expectancy expected to rise?

Statistics show that today one in three girls and one in four boys born are expected to live to one hundred.

Dr. Vassiliou, one of the study’s lead researchers, gave BBC his feedback on the findings.

He said, “What it is saying is that a lot more people than expected are starting on the path to leukemia, but thankfully only a few make it to the end. There is one warning for the future, if there was a significant extension of life expectancy then there could be a significant increase in leukemia. We don't know what percentage of people would go on to develop leukemia, it might be one in 1,000 or even one in 100 or more and that would have a dramatic impact.”


Gerry Oginski
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