Only about 60 percent of people with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a common cancer of white blood cells, respond well to therapy. This cancer, as currently defined, is in fact two distinct diseases, according to new tests that use so-called gene chips to look at the activity of thousands of genes simultaneously. Patients with one pattern of gene expression, called germinal-center B-like pattern, seem to respond better to treatment than the other patients do, says R. Eric Davis of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.
Among 19 people with germinal-center B-like disease, 14 were still alive 5 years after diagnosis, he and his colleagues report in the Feb. 3 Nature. In contrast, only 3 of 19 patients with so-called activated B-like disease survived for 5 years.
The team hopes that gene chips will illuminate the cellular pathways that give rise to the slightly different cancers and those results will lead to more successful therapies.