It’s an unassuming-looking instrument, about three-feet-by-three-feet, small enough to fit on a desk or table top. But as blood or bone marrow aspirate samples pass through this machine, called a flow cytometer — at about 500 cells per second — the flow cytometer parses individual cells with a laser beam. The way each cell refracts that light tells a detailed story about how an individual’s blood cells are reproducing and functioning, and whether disease is present.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers provides this in-house, state-of-the-art flow cytometry technology to its patients as part of its commitment to comprehensive care. Testing samples With that diagnosis, physicians can craft a course of treatment for patients with blood cancer like leukemia or lymphoma, and can carefully tailor that treatment to each person’s unique disease.
“Doing flow cytometry in-house provides us with a diagnosis quickly,“ says Robert Rifkin, MD, a Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncologist specializing in hematology. “It’s a tremendous service for patients.”in-house allows physicians rapid, direct access to a precise diagnosis.
The technology is used both in initial diagnosis of blood cancers such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma, and later tests using the flow cytometer track the effectiveness of treatment, says Jacque Leach, area laboratory manager.
Accurate Results, Fast
In addition to providing rapid results, offering flow cytometry in-house helps assure that test results are as accurate as possible. “One of the biggest advantages of having this at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is that we can perform testing within hours of when the samples are drawn,” says RMCC flow cytometry specialist Mark Wenderski.
Once a blood sample or bone-marrow aspirate is collected, the white blood cells in that sample are first tagged with what Wenderski calls “a fluorescent antibody cocktail.” This consists of a special assortment of markers that, when bound to cells and excited by a laser, characterize the cells’ type, abundance, maturity, and normality or abnormality.
The way the light focused on each cell is dispersed sends a number of messages to the pathologists who interpret the results. For example, the cytometer reveals the proportion of immature cells to mature ones. When that proportion is off, it may mean that cells are not reproducing normally — a common indication of cancer. The profile also helps classify the type of cancer, a critical part of treating it successfully.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers treats all forms of blood cancers and non-cancerous blood disorders. To learn more about Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Blood Cancer Support Groups, visit our Support Groups page.