During the past 2 decades, there has been considerable progress made in the treatment of childhood and adult lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Currently, 70% to 90% of adults achieve a complete remission, and 25% to 50% of these patients may experience prolonged disease-free survival and may be cured of their disease. Unfortunately, most adults with ALL will ultimately experience a recurrence and die of their leukemia. Although most children with ALL may now be cured with current therapeutic regimens, the ability to distinguish good-risk patients from those who are likely to relapse has important clinical implications. Relapse, in most pediatric and adult cases, is thought to result from residual leukemia cells that remain following achievement of 'complete' remission but are below the limits of detection using conventional morphologic assessment of the bone marrow. Sensitive techniques are now available to detect subclinical levels of residual leukemia, termed minimal residual disease.
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