Doctors currently estimate that about 5-10% of leukemia cases are connected to an inherited genetic disorder passed down from parent to child. Patients suspected of having an inherited predisposition to leukemia can turn to the Hereditary Leukemia Clinic for genetic testing and counseling.
Knowing that a disease has a genetic component can change how doctors treat the patient. Certain chemotherapies, for example, work better for patients with specific genetic mutations.
An inherited genetic mutation can have an even bigger impact on patients who need a stem cell transplant. Often, a sibling, parent or child serves as a leukemia patient’s stem cell donor. If a patient has a hereditary leukemia syndrome, a family member who is a good candidate to donate stem cells may need be tested for the genetic disorder first. Potential donors who have the same disorder may not be eligible to donate stem cells.
Who should get tested for hereditary leukemia syndromes?
Not all leukemia patients need genetic testing. Instead, patients with leukemia or other hematologic malignancies talk with their doctor about testing if:
- They were diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myeloid leukemia before age 40
- They were diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myeloid leukemia and have a personal and/or family history of thrombocytopenia
- They were diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myeloid leukemia and their bone marrow has specific genetic mutations. Doctors routinely test for these mutations during diagnosis.
- One or more close relatives have had leukemia
If a patient tests positive for a hereditary leukemia and hematologic malignancy syndrome, immediate blood relatives (including parents, siblings and children) typically have a 50% chance of carrying the same genetic disorder. They should meet with a genetic counselor to learn more and may consider genetic testing, as well. If they test positive, they should consider regular disease screenings. These screenings may help doctors identify cancer at an early stage, when it is most treatable.
Testing for a hereditary leukemia syndrome is different from most other genetic tests. Because leukemia affects the blood, any genetic tests of the blood will show mutations of disease cells, not mutations the patient inherited. Instead, hereditary leukemia often requires a skin punch biopsy. During this procedure a small section of skin and tissue is removed, then tested for inherited genetic mutations.
Request an appointment with the Hereditary Leukemia Clinic
Current MD Anderson patients should ask their care team about a consultation with the Hereditary Leukemia Clinic.
The clinic also offers genetic counseling and testing to non-MD Anderson patients. Visit our appointments page to learn how to request an appointment or refer a patient.