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Deletion 20q in CLL May Represent Disease Progression

Laura Panjwani
Published: Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lynne V. Abruzzo, MD, PhD

Lynne V. Abruzzo, MD, PhD

The identification of a deletion 20q (del[20q]) in a patient with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may not indicate they have developed a myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) as was previously assumed, according to new research published in Modern Pathology.

Researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that in cases with morphologic evidence of dysplasia, del(20q) likely resides in the myeloid lineage. However, in cases without morphologic evidence of dysplasia, del(20q) may represent clonal evolution and disease progression in CLL.

It was determined that among 64 patients with CLL, del(20q) was the sole abnormality in 40 cases, a stemline abnormality in 21, and a secondary abnormality in 3. FISH analysis revealed an additional high-risk abnormality, del(11q) or del(17p), in 39% of cases.

To better understand how this discovery may change patient management, OncLive spoke with one of the study’s authors, Lynne V. Abruzzo, MD, PhD. Abruzzo worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the time the research was conducted and is currently a professor of Pathology/Clinical Pathology at Ohio State University Compressive Cancer Center.

OncLive: How was it determined that del(20q) could be present in some CLL patients but not be indicative of MDS?

Dr Abruzzo: When studying leukemia and lymphoma, one of the things that we do is grow the cells in culture. After they divide, we then prepare slides and look at the chromosomes. By looking at the chromosomes in many cancers, particularly leukemia, we can find certain abnormalities. These abnormalities give us a very good idea of what the disease is.

For example, patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) have a translocation between a specific part of chromosome 9 and a specific part of chromosome 22. If we see that when we are looking at the chromosomes, and combine that with other information, we can make a diagnosis of CML. There are other chromosome abnormalities that we commonly see in certain kinds of acute leukemia.

In CLL, the disease that I study, there is no single genetic abnormality, but there is a couple of abnormalities that we see commonly. Del(20q) is not one of them. Every person has 22 pairs of autosomes and then a pair of sex chromosomes. Loss of part of the chromosome 20 is often seen in MDS. For many patients with MDS, their bone marrow eventually fails and they stop making blood cells or they go on to develop a more acute leukemia. Del(20q) is an abnormality that we tend to see in MDS, but we don’t think of it as being associated with CLL.

One thing to keep in mind is, if you look at the demographics, most patients who are diagnosed with CLL are older adults. Most patients who get MDS are also older adults. Why do people get CLL? We don’t really know. Why do people get MDS? We don’t know, but we do have some idea of a cause in some cases. We do know that patients who have received certain types of chemotherapy for one cancer are more likely to develop MDS.

In this trial, we had patients who had all been treated for CLL. When they returned for testing, it was discovered that they had a del(20q). What does that mean? The obvious assumption would be that they acquired MDS due to chemotherapy exposure or age, in addition to CLL.

However, when looking at the bone marrow of these patients, I noticed that, in several of them, their bone marrow was so overrun with CLL that there was no way we could be getting the abnormal karyotypes from the MDS cells. In those cases, I could not identify any MDS cells. The question became, “Could this del(20q) be in their CLL cells, in which they do not have MDS, but a new abnormality that we generally don’t expect?”

We took the cells, made smears, and did FISH, which allows us to look at the chromosomes in the nuclei of the cell. When we look at the cells, we can tell if they are MDS or CLL cells. In about half of the cases, we found that the abnormality was in the MDS cells, as expected, but in the other half of the cases, it was actually in the CLL cells.

Why is this discovery significant?

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Cancer Summaries and Commentaries™: Update from Atlanta: Advances in the Treatment of Chronic Lymphocytic LeukemiaFeb 28, 20190.5
Year in Review™: Reflecting on Recent Evidence for the Treatment of Hematologic MalignanciesFeb 28, 20192.0
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