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Health Information Living with Lymphoma

Hodgkin 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, associate director, section of hematology and stem cell transplantation at Rush University Medical Center. "Many of the new treatments are like laser-guided missiles, thanks to the knowledge we've gained."

"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."

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • Dr. Venugopal will be speaking on Saturday, November 11, 2006, at a community health event "Living with Lymphoma: Advancements in Treatments and Research" starting at 9:00 a.m.
  • Dr. Venugopal will also be speaking on Sunday, December 3rd, from 12:30-2:30 at the Museum of Science and Industry. The program is "Meet the Expert on Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: New Insights and Treatments."
    • You can phone the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at (312) 651-7350, extension 230, for more information.
  • Read about Working with Your Health Care Team When You Have Cancer: A Patient's Guide.
  • For more information about cancer treatment and care at Rush visit our Cancer Center home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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Working with Your Health Care Team When You Have Cancer
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) working with Cancer Care, Inc. , prepared the following important fact sheet for persons considering medical treatment.

The NCI says it may seem obvious, but it is very important to remember that you are the most important person on your health care team.

As with any type of health care you receive, you are a consumer of services and you should not be afraid to ask questions about what services you are getting and who is providing them.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Bring someone with you – When you are going to meet with a health care provide (a physician, nurse, or other health care professional), bring someone else with you. It helps to have another person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
  • Be prepared – Write out your questions beforehand to make sure you do not forget to discuss anything.
  • Make sure you understood – Write down the answers you get and make sure you understand what you are hearing.
  • Ask questions – Do not be afraid to ask your questions or ask where you can find more information about what you are discussing. Being well-informed is your most important task as a member of the health care team.

The NCI describes the possible members of a health care team you may be working with in addition to physicians:

  • Social Workers: Social workers are professionally trained in counseling and practical assistance. They provide the broadest range of help to people with cancer, and are a good place to start if you have recently been diagnosed with cancer and unsure of what to do next.
  • Nurses: Nurses are an extremely important part of your health care team. Nurses have a wide range of skills and are usually in charge of actually implementing the plan of care your doctor has set up for you. Nurses are trained to administer medication and monitor side effects. Whether you are staying in the hospital for care or receive it on an outpatient basis (which means you go home after each treatment), you will benefit from seeking assistance, asking questions, or getting tips and advice from your nurse or nurse practitioner. Nurses are often aware of support services in your community and can usually provide you with educational materials and pamphlets.
  • Home Health Aides: Another form of home care is from a home health aide. Home health aides assist people who are ill and need help moving around, bathing, cooking, or doing household chores. Some state Medicaid programs will pay for home health aide care, provided they are supervised by a nurse. However, private insurance or managed care plans rarely pay for a home health aide unless there is also a need for skilled nursing care.
  • Psychiatrists: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in providing psychotherapy, or general psychological help. A psychiatrist specializes in helping people who are depressed, anxious or otherwise unable to cope psychologically. Because they are physicians, psychiatrists can also prescribe medication, such as antidepressants or medication to help you sleep.
  • Psychologists: A psychologist is also someone who can assist you if you are feeling depressed, anxious or sad. While not medical doctors, psychologists have obtained a doctoral degree in psychology and counseling; many specialize in marital counseling or chronic illness.
  • Rehabilitation Specialists: Rehabilitation services help people recover from physical changes caused by cancer or cancer treatment. It includes the services of physical therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, speech therapists and other professionals who help you physically recover from cancer.
  • Dietitians: Dietary or nutritional counseling or services are commonly prescribed for people with cancer. A dietitian can suggest ways to get enough calories, vitamins and protein to help you feel better and control your weight, and can give you tips about increasing your appetite if you experience nausea, heartburn or fatigue from your illness or treatment.
  • Clergy: Prayer and spiritual counseling can be very important in coping with a serious illness such as cancer. Many people find it useful to get help from clergy or other spiritual leaders, and there is no question that a strong sense of spirituality can help people face difficult challenges with courage and a sense of hope.

A diagnosis of cancer or other serious medical problem may be the most difficult challenge you or your loved ones will ever face. That is why it is important to find help and try to maintain your sense of hope no matter what your situation. Your team of health care professionals is knowledgeable about the many different aspects of a medical condition: medical, physical, emotional, social and spiritual.

Always consult your physician for more information. Remember you're a team.

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