New study conducted by Cancer Research UK on genetic analysis of blood cells has shown that one of the main types of blood cancer causes 11 distinct diseases.
The research finding which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine found some genetic differences which explained why some patients respond much better to treatment than others.
The researchers said their findings would help with the development of clinical trials and offers new insights into cancer disease.
The study focused on Acute Myeliod Leukaemia, AML, reveling that there are at least 3,000 new cases of the disease every year in the United Kingdom, UK.
The research also showed that the disease is often aggressive; particularly in older patients and that the overall survival rate after five years is about 20 percent.
Treatment is predominantly chemotherapy and stem-cell transplant, but for many patients it can be difficult to tell how they will respond.
Clinicians currently rely on checks for chromosomal abnormalities and analysis under a microscope.
The study was carried out on more than 1,500 patients and focused on more than 100 genes known to cause leukaemia and investigated on how they reacted.
According to researchers, patients were divided into at least 11 major groups, each with their own set of genetic changes and clinical features.
Dr Peter Campbell from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who co-led the research, said the findings would help doctors make “very meaningful predictions” about what will happen to patients.
“I could have two patients who had what looked like the same leukaemia under the microscope and I could treat them with exactly the same therapy.
“One of those patients would be cured and one would relapse and die very quickly. What we can see in this data-set is that that clinical variability is strongly predicted by the underlying genetics.”
Campbell hoped that the technique would “filter into clinics” over the next few years as more centres develop their diagnostic resources, adding that a range of exciting new targeted treatments are coming online for some of these genetic changes.
Understanding the structure of the leukaemia, he said, would help scientists develop trials which would bring those drugs to the right subsets of patients.
Dr Elli Papaemmanuil, who co-authored the study, said the findings shed new light on the fundamental causes of AML.
“For the first time, we untangled the genetic complexity seen in most AML cancer genomes into distinct evolutionary paths that lead to AML. By understanding these paths we can help develop more appropriate treatments for individual patients with AML.”
Dr Áine McCarthy from Cancer Research UK, who welcomed the findings, said “Science such as this continues to offer new insights into cancer which can help us achieve our goal of beating the disease.
“We need to learn more from clinical trials to find out whether tailoring treatment based on these subgroups boosts the number of people surviving the disease,’’ she explained

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