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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Biomarkers of leukemia risk: benzene as a model.

  • Author(s): Smith, MT
  • Zhang, L
  • et al.

Although relatively rare, leukemias place a considerable financial burden on society and cause psychologic trauma to many families. Leukemia is the most common cancer in children. The causes of leukemia in adults and children are largely unknown, but occupational and environmental factors are strongly suspected. Genetic predisposition may also play a major role. Our aim is to use molecular epidemiology and toxicology to find the cause of leukemia and develop biomarkers of leukemia risk. We have studied benzene as a model chemical leukemogen, and we have identified risk factors for susceptibility to benzene toxicity. Numerous studies have associated exposure to benzene with increased levels of chromosome aberrations in circulating lymphocytes of exposed workers. Increased levels of chromosome aberrations have, in turn, been correlated with a heightened risk of cancer, especially for hematologic malignancy, in two recent cohort studies in Europe. Conventional chromosome analysis is laborious, however, and requires highly trained personnel. Further, it lacks statistical power, as only a small number of cells can be examined. The recently developed fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based technologies have allowed the detection of specific chromosome aberrations. These techniques are far less time consuming and are more sensitive than classical chromosomal analysis. Because leukemias commonly show a variety of specific chromosome aberrations, detection of these aberrations by FISH and PCR in peripheral blood may provide improved biomarkers of leukemia risk.

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