The cause of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) has been identified by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna. The study, now published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that a gene disorder in the development of blood-producing stem cells, located in the thymus, leads to this aggressive cancer of the blood.

Study author Lukas Kenner claimed that normally, treatment of this cancer only destroys the cancer cells which are already spread throughout the body but not the original source. Because of this, patients with ALCL suffer from relapse even after completing the therapy successfully.

According to the Leukaemia Foundation, ALCL usually affects children and young adults. The cancer occurs as tumor in the skin, bone marrow, lymph nodes, lungs and liver. Currently, the most common treatment for this cancer is intensive chemotherapy. However, apart from possibly causing relapse, chemotherapy also causes infertility, heart disease and secondary cancers in some patients.

The researchers said that a major change in the immune system encourages the spread of the lymphomas. Particularly, the T-cell receptors (TCR), which are molecules found on T-cells, was found on this type of white blood cells but disappeared, prompting the spread. Apparently, this shows that TCR can hold back the development of tumors.

“Current chemotherapy is particularly exhausting for children and adolescents, especially if a relapse occurs and additional treatment is needed,” Kenner adds. “Our new findings about this lymphoma enable the development of more efficient and less toxic medicines, with which every child will soon be able to return to a normal life after treatment.”

The cause of this disease has not been previously studied. Fortunately, the findings have given experts more data about the origin of ALCL. The research team added that the study may pave the way for improved prevention methods and treatments of lymphomas.