Flow cytometry can identify the type of cells in a blood or bone marrow sample, including the types of cancer cells. It detects types of cancer cells based on either the presence or the absence of certain protein markers (antigens) on a cell’s surface. The most common use of flow cytometry is in the identification of markers on cells, particularly in the immune system (called immunophenotyping).
How Is It Done?
A sample of cells from the blood or a bone marrow biopsy is treated with special antibodies created in the laboratory. Each antibody only sticks to certain types of cells that have the antigens that fit with it. The cells are then passed through a laser beam. If the cells have the antibodies attached to them, they will give off light that is then measured and analyzed by a computer.
What Do the Results Mean?
Flow cytometry can provide information that is used to diagnose, stage and monitor blood cancers. It can also be used to test for minimal residual disease (MRD), the number of cancer cells remaining in the body after treatment. Detecting MRD helps doctors to determine which patients need additional treatment and which patients do not. Evaluating for MRD in your blood may also help your doctor to decide how to monitor your disease and how to follow you after your treatment is complete.
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