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Ashley Cain and Safiyya discuss early signs of leukaemia

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A rare form of leukaemia has been linked to a viral infection that can occur several decades before the cancer is diagnosed.

The virus has five to 10 million carriers globally; five percent are likely to develop the cancer.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes the number of carriers for the virus may be underestimated because of the long delay it can produce before symptoms appear.

The HTLV-1 virus is highly concentrated in some areas of the world, with Japan having one million cases.

The researchers hope that their study of how the virus works, anti anxiety meds buspar published in Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI), could give an insight to preventing the formation of cancer.

The researchers examined 87,000 cell samples from 12 people, split between those who had the virus but no cancer, those who had the virus and the cancer, and those without the virus.

T-cells in people who had the virus were over-reactive, producing large amounts of proteins involved in proliferating and avoiding the parts of the immune system that hunt down cancer cells.

The team believe this change in activity makes the cells more susceptible to DNA damage that can turn them fully cancerous.

The resulting cancer, adult T-cell leukaemia, is highly resistant to treatments and has a high relapse rate following chemotherapy.

Co-lead researcher Dr Masahiro Ono, of Imperial College London, said the results will be important in designing future therapies targeting the pathway they identified.

He said: “Our work highlights a key mechanism for this change and provides us with new directions to search for ways to interfere with the process, potentially preventing the cancer from developing.

“For example, the chronic activation of T-cells could be halted by molecules that block signalling pathways that tell the cells to activate.

Alternatively, treatments could target the proteins the activated T-cells create to help them proliferate.”

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The National Organisation for Rare Disorders notes that symptoms of the infection can take years to develop.

Common symptoms they describe are balance problems, lower back pain and numbness or pain in the legs.

Chronic infection of the spinal cord can cause neurological disability that may prevent people from walking.

It can also leave the body vulnerable to other infections after causing disruption to the immune system.

The virus spread in a similar manner to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Unprotected sex, unclean needles and donation of blood and organs are all ways the virus is able to spread.

Spread of the virus can be prevented by practising good sexual health, screening at blood donations and the use of needle exchanges.

The several decades delay between infection and the development of cancer means that any preventative measures will take a long time to see results.

The study was conducted by a team collaborating between Japan’s Kumamoto university and Imperial College London.

In addition to Japan there are other endemic regions with high rates of the virus.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control notes that there are clusters found in the Caribbean, South America, Australia, the Middle East and tropical Africa.

These clusters do not appear to have common environmental conditions.

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