Leukaemia Patients Have a Higher Risk of Developing Serious Eye Disease – University of Copenhagen

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29 June 2017

Leukaemia Patients Have a Higher Risk of Developing Serious Eye Disease

Eye Research

A new study from the University of Copenhagen conducted in cooperation with Region Zealand shows that patients diagnosed with chronic leukaemia have a 30-per cent higher risk of developing age spots on the retina than other people.


Health science has never been able to understand the serious eye disease called ’age-related macular degeneration’ also known as age spots on the retina causing marked visual impairment. But a new study from the University of Copenhagen may be able to change that.

The study is part of a PhD project using Danish register data from 1994 to 2013 and is a collaboration between the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and Zealand University Hospital, Region Zealand.

The study shows that patients suffering from the chronic cancer forms ‘chronic myeloproliferative neoplasms’ have a 30-per cent higher risk of developing the eye disease than other people.

The Immune System May Be the Culprit
‘We have actually never known what causes this eye disease. Many believed that it was isolated to and emerged in the eye. Now we know that leukaemia patients have a higher risk of developing the disease that others, and this tells us that the rest of the body must have an influence on the disease. Unfortunately, this study does not reveal the causal relationship between the two diseases. We will research this further, now that we are able to look at leukaemia patients more closely’, says Professor Torben Lykke Sørensen from the Department of Clinical Medicine and Consultant Doctor at the Department of Ophthalmology at Zealand University Hospital, who has been affiliated to the project.

The researchers suspect the overactive immune system of leukaemia patients of being the main cause of the eye disease among this group of patients. Their further research will look at this in more detail.

Keeping an Eye on the Eyes of Cancer Patients
Torben Lykke Sørensen, in cooperation with Clinical Professor Hans Hasselbalch, got the idea for the project from the correlation between factors that are different in patients with the two seemingly different diseases.

The project was then conducted by PhD Student Marie Bak, who examined 8,000 Danish leukaemia patients in the period and compared them to 80,000 control subjects from the normal population.

She says that the study makes it relevant to look more closely at the correlation between leukaemia and the eye disease and at the retina of these patients. According to Marie Bak, the result also prepares the ground for other studies that may determine whether patients suffering from leukaemia also have a higher risk of developing other chronic diseases in which the immune system plays a part.

‘The study is interesting because it tells us that the patients may not only be struggling with cancer, but are also more likely to develop other disabling diseases than the rest of the population. We have now begun looking at whether other diseases governed by an overactive immune system also appear more often in these patients. In addition, we are looking at the characteristics of the eyes of patients with these forms of leukaemia’, says Marie Bak


The study Age-Related Macular Degeneration in Patients With Chronic Myeloproliferative Neoplasms was published in JAMA Ophthalmol on June 22 2017.