NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A chemical found in green tea may shrink lymph nodes and reduce white blood cell counts in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows.

There is no cure for CLL, and about half of patients with the disease have an aggressive, fatal form, Dr. Tait D. Shanafelt of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and colleagues explain in the report. At present, there is no therapy available that can prevent early-stage CLL from progressing.

After the researchers published promising results using the green tea component epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) to treat cancer cells in lab dishes, Shanafelt and his colleagues noticed that some patients with CLL started taking products containing tea polyphenols on their own — and showed a response.

In the current study, the researchers tested Polyphenon E capsules, which contain about 200 milligrams of EGCG, in 33 patients who had early-stage CLL and no symptoms. They tested doses ranging from 400 to 2000 milligrams taken twice a day.

Even at the highest doses, side effects were few, the researchers found.

Fifteen patients showed a 20 percent or greater reduction in their white blood cell count, which lasted for at least two months in 11 patients.

Twelve patients had swollen glands when they were enrolled in the study, and 11 of them had a reduction of at least 50 percent in the lymph node swelling.

The highest dose seemed to be most effective, with 16 (76 percent) of the 21 patients taking 1200 to 2000 milligrams of EGCG showing a biologic response, compared to two (17 percent) of 12 patients taking 400 to 1000 milligrams.

The findings suggest that giving EGCG to early-stage CLL patients could help stabilize the disease, Shanafelt and his colleagues say. They are now conducting another study using 2000 milligrams of EGCG twice daily in patients with early-stage CLL.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, online May 26, 2009.