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Living With Lymphoma

Catching and treating lymphoma

Parameswaran Venugopal, MDHodgkin disease is a relatively uncommon lymphoma, or type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. All other lymphomas are referred to as non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. Each year, about 54,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with some type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The good news is that many advances have been made in our understanding of the disease and how to treat it.

"For example, we are finding targets for treatment and suppression on the surface of the lymphoma cells themselves," says Parameswaran Venugopal, MD, a hematologist/oncologist at Rush. "Many of the new treatments are like laser-guided missiles, thanks to the knowledge we've gained."

Targeting cancer cells

"We are also learning more about the gene expression pattern of the disease, which also helps us to find the most effective treatment for that individual type of lymphoma," says Venugopal. "We want to be able to target the lymphoma cells without damaging normal healthy cells."

The most recent strides in research and knowledge have been paying off already with new treatment strategies. "For example, radioimmunotherapy has revolutionized how we treat patients with lymphoma," Venugopal says.

The traditional therapy for about the last 50 years has been radiation or chemotherapy. Radioimmunotherapy uses a more targeted approach with a drug-like toxin with radiation attached to it.

The toxin and radiation are designed to kill the cancer cells, but not affect normal healthy cells. "When you give the toxin through the vein, it goes all over the body to seek out the lymphoma cells and destroy them," says Venugopal. "It's a double whammy of immunotherapy and radiation therapy in one treatment."

"Rush is one of the centers in this country that has done a lot of research with this therapy, making sure that it was safe and effective," Venugopal says. "We're among the pioneering researchers who made it available today."

Researchers at Rush continue to look for ways to make lymphoma treatment better and more effective.

"Another area where Rush has been on the leading edge is working on a 'vaccine' for lymphoma cells," Venugopal says. "Over the last several years, along with Stanford and the National Cancer Institute, we've been working on extracting a marker from the lymphoma cells of the individual patient that would help the immune system attack the cell. Initial results have been very promising."

Early detection is key

As with all cancers, early detection of lymphoma is key. If you have an enlarged lymph node or suspicious bump or lump, get it checked out. "If antibiotics aren't helping, you need to let your doctor know and get evaluated," says Venugopal.

"The good news is that for every type of lymphoma there is a treatment," according to Venugopal. "You just have to stay on top of it and work closely with your doctor."

"Although we've made a lot of progress there's still a lot to be made. The best way to achieve this is to participate in clinical trials – to help researchers and the advancement of medical knowledge. Participation is the only way we can make progress in medicine."