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Lymphoma: What Can Prevent, Treat Cancer That Killed Fred Thompson?

Lymphoma: What Can Prevent, Treat Cancer That Killed Fred Thompson?
(Copyright AP)

By    |   Tuesday, 03 November 2015 12:49 PM

The type of lymphoma that killed former Sen. Fred Thompson is on the rise, especially in people who are age 60 and older, a top expert says.

“There has been a rise of cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma since the 1970s, although we don’t have a clear understanding of the reason for the increase,” says Dr. Alexandra Stefanovic.

“One reason may be the aging population, because most cases occur in people in their 60s and 70s, and older,” notes Dr. Stefanovic, a hematological oncologist with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami.

But new research is identifying factors that may raise the risk for lymphoma — including lifestyle habits, environmental toxins, and even infectious agents that attack the immune system.

Scientists are also homing in on new treatments and strategies that aim to prevent its development in the first place.

NHL is the most common form of lymphoma, which represents a large, diverse group of diseases. Lymphatic cancer begins in cells in the lymphatic system, which is the clear liquid that circulates through the blood, and is part of the immune system.

Each year, about 70,000 people, slightly more of them men, are diagnosed with the disease, which causes about 19,790 deaths annually.  The cause of NHL is not known and, although it can occur in anyone, including children, growing older heightens the risk.

Although its cause is not known, there are factors that raise the risk of developing the disease. 

In addition to growing older (the average age of diagnosis is 66) and gender (slightly more men are affected than women), and race (whites are more likely to develop it than Asians or African-Americans), other risk factors include the following:

•    Exposure to certain chemicals, such as herbicides and insecticides.
•    Immune system deficiency, such as people who take immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants.
•    Autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Sjogren disease.
•    Certain infections that raise the risk of different types of NHL, such as the Epstein-Barr virus, and the virus involved in the development of hepatitis C.
•    Radiation treatment for some other forms of cancer, such as Hodgkin’s disease, which is another type of lymphoma.

There are no screening tests for NHL. Also, because not much is known about what causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, identifying risk factors is particularly important for the prevention and control of this cancer.

There is evidence that people who are physically active have a lower risk of some cancers such as colon and breast cancers, but not many studies have investigated whether being physical active is associated with the risk of NHL.

A study published in May in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found, however, that people who maintained the most vigorous exercise regiment long-term lowered their risk of developing NHL by 25-to-30 percent.

The treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma depends on whether the type is indolent (slow growing), aggressive (fast growing), and where exactly it falls along this scale.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a blood cancer, so instead of surgery, the general treatment is usually a combination of chemotherapy and immunological treatments involving monoclonal antibodies, which is a type of biological treatment known also as immunotherapy.

Lymphoma cells contain certain chemicals on their surface.

Monoclonal antibodies that recognize these substances can be targeted to destroy the lymphoma cells while causing little damage to normal body tissues. This treatment strategy has already proven effective. Several such drugs, including rituximab, are already available.

“Definitely the greatest excitement is about the new monoclonal antibodies,” says Dr. Stefanovic. “We also hope we will have in the future a tumor specific vaccine so we could teach the patient’s immune system to fight the lymphoma. That would be the ultimate dream.”


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The type of lymphoma that killed former Sen. Fred Thompson is on the rise. But new research is identifying factors that raise the risk for lymphoma — including lifestyle habits, environmental toxins, and even infectious agents that attack the immune system.
fred, thompson, lymphoma
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2015-49-03
Tuesday, 03 November 2015 12:49 PM
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