THURSDAY, March 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Measuring the levels of a specific kind of immune system cell helps predict whether people with leukemia and related cancers who have received a blood stem cell transplant will suffer a relapse and die or go into remission, says a University of Florida study.
These immune system cells, called dendritic cells, initiate the body's immune response to disease or infection. When produced in large enough numbers after a person has a stem cell transplant, these dendritic cells seem to launch the body's efforts to combat the return of blood-borne cancers, the study found.
The dendritic cells do this without harming healthy tissues.
The researchers took blood samples from 50 cancer patients within two to four weeks after they received a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant from a donor. Most of the patients were being treated for leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma.
The study found patients with a low dendritic cell count were nearly 12 times more prone to cancer relapse during the study period which, on average, lasted about a year and a half. Patients with a low dendritic cell count were also more than three times more likely to develop graft-versus-host disease and were nearly four times more likely to die.
These findings, published in the journal Blood, suggest doctors may someday be able to use patients' own naturally occurring dendritic cells to fight cancers.
"This is the first study to demonstrate that dendritic cells by themselves can fight off cancer," study author Dr. Vijay Reddy, an assistant professor of hematology and oncology, says in a prepared statement.
"It's the first study in any cancer patient to show that if you don't have enough dendritic cells, the cancer comes back. And it's the first study in the bone marrow transplant arena that shows that large numbers of dendritic cells are important to having a good immune system after transplant to avoid death after transplant," Reddy says.
The American Cancer Society has more about leukemia.