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Epstein-Barr virus in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia: A pilot study

The objective of this study was to assess the incidence and the clinical significance of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). Patients with CLL/SLL who presented at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center over a 2-year period and had available marrow paraffin blocks were studied for evidence of EBV infection using a highly specific in-situ hybridization assay for detection of EBV encoded RNA (EBERs). Results were analysed in relation to other presenting characteristics and outcome. Thirty-two patients were examined. EBERs were detected in the bone marrow of 12 of 32 (38%) CLL/SLL marrows vs 0 of 20 normal marrows (p = 0.002). EBERs were observed in sporadic granulocytes alone or in addition to its presence in lymphocytes in nine of the 12 EBV-positive patients. EBERs were detected less frequently in patients with Rai stage 0 – 1 disease (20%) compared with Rai stage 2 – 4 (66%; p = 0.008). EBER-positive patients tended to have higher lactate dehydrogenase levels (p = 0.053). The 10-year survival rate was 22% vs 58% for patients with and without discernible EBERs (log-rank, p = 0.08). Evidence of EBV infection was found in 38% of patients with CLL/SLL. Despite the small number of patients tested, discernable EBERs were significantly more common in individuals with more advanced Rai stage and there was a trend toward shorter survival in patients in whom EBV EBERs were discerned. Larger studies are needed to determine the prognostic value and role of EBV infection in patients with CLL/SLL.