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Researchers analyzed blood samples from nearly 3,000 Americans, ages 10 to 90, and found the mutations in less than 1 percent of those ages 40 to 49. By the time people are between 70 and 79, 5 percent will have blood cell mutations, according to the study. For people between 80 and 89, more than 6 percent will be affected, the researchers found.
Cell mutations accumulate as people age, and most are harmless, according to the researchers. They said that having these blood cell mutations associated with leukemia and lymphoma doesn't mean a person will develop these blood cancers. In fact, the diseases occur in less than 0.1 percent of elderly Americans, the researchers noted.
"But it's quite striking how many people over age 70 have these mutations," study senior author Li Ding, of The Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a university news release.
"We don't yet know whether having one of these mutations causes a higher than normal risk of developing blood cancers. More research would be required to better understand that risk," Ding added.
The study -- published in the Oct. 19 issue of Nature Medicine-- likely underestimates the percentage of people with blood cell mutations associated with the blood cancers, according to the researchers.
They also said there's no point in people getting genetic tests in an effort to predict their risk of blood cancers.
"We would not want anyone to think they should be screened for these mutations to understand their risk of leukemia or lymphoma," study co-author and professor of oncology Dr. Timothy Ley of Washington University, said in the news release.
"The ability to understand how mutations in these genes increase a person's risk of blood cancers is a long way off, and genetic testing would be of no benefit at this time," Ley explained.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Washington University, news release, Oct. 19, 2014