Gene expression helps classify cancers

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.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine