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Preleukemia: one name, many meanings


Definition of preleukemia has evolved. It was first used to describe the myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) with a propensity to progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Individuals with germline mutations of either RUNX1, CEBPA, or GATA2 can also be called as preleukemic because they have a markedly increased incidence of evolution into AML. Also, alkylating chemotherapy or radiation can cause MDS/preleukemia, which nearly always progress to AML. More recently, investigators noted that AML patients who achieved complete morphological remission after chemotherapy often have clonal hematopoiesis predominantly marked by either DNMT3A, TET2 or IDH1/2 mutations, which were also present at diagnosis of AML. This preleukemic clone represents involvement of an early hematopoietic stem cells, which is resistant to standard therapy. The same clonal hematopoietic mutations have been identified in older 'normal' individuals who have a modest increased risk of developing frank AML. These individuals have occasionally been said, probably inappropriately, to have a preleukemia clone. Our evolving understanding of the term preleukemia has occurred by advancing technology including studies of X chromosome inactivation, cytogenetics and more recently deep nucleotide sequencing.

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