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Blood Test May Predict Survival of Merkel Cell Carcinoma Patients

Recent research was presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s 54th Annual Meeting which sheds light on predicting Merkel cell carcinoma survival rates.  A new routine blood test may perhaps offer patients some sanity within the difficult journey of illness.
Mercel cell carcinoma is a rare skin cancer with about 1500 cases in the US per year.  It is terminal in around 1/3 of its patients.  It is the most common in people over 65 with fair skin, extensive sun exposure, and is often associated with a weakened immune function.  
Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers have discovered that a routine blood test may predict the chance of survival in patients.  The determining factor is the number of lymphocytes present, a type of white blood cell that contributes to immune function.  Because of its connection to the body’s overall immunity, a higher count may demonstrate that the cancer is prevented from growing. 
The contrast was clear in the studies.  In a pool of 64 patients treated between 1992 and 2010 at Fox Chase, patients with lower counts did not live as long after treatment as those with higher counts of lymphocytes.  Half of the patients with low lymphocyte counts lived 25 months or less after treatment, while patients within a normal range lived nearly 100 months or more.  Those with higher lymphocyte counts also had a greater chance of surviving cancer-free 60 months later.
While this information has little potential effect on how Merkel cell carcinoma is treated–since it is already typically being approached aggressively–it does give the patient a better prognosis of his or her illness.  Therefore, it may be helpful for patients to find out their lymphocyte count during their routine blood checks and understand the implications.
Sometimes knowing makes all the difference. 
[Image by nzsheep]
Sources: [1], [2], [3]


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