The Food & Drug Administration’s accelerated approval of an immunotherapy for patients with Hodgkin lymphoma who have failed other treatments is a positive development for patients who face a very poor prognosis.
While Hodgkin lymphoma is now considered one of the most curable forms of cancer – with a more than 86 percent five-year-survival rate overall – those patients who relapse after treatment have a much reduced chance of survival.
FDA’s approval of nivolumab (Opdivo®), marks the first approval of this particular approach to therapy for a blood cancer. Nivolumab has previously been approved, either as a single agent or as a combination therapy, for a number of solid tumor cancers, including several types of metastatic melanoma; metastatic non-small cell lung cancer; and renal cell carcinoma.
Specialists in LLS's Information Resource Center answer thousands of questions via phone, email and chat every month. Here are a few they say are really important.
What is my actual diagnosis? Find out your exact diagnosis. Ask your doctor to write down the exact name of your sub-type and take the paper with you. For example, knowing you have “a B-cell lymphoma” isn’t good enough. Follicular and diffuse large B-cell are both B-cell lymphomas but with very different prognoses and treatment plans. Leukemia also has different sub-types. Knowing your specific sub-type helps you understand what disease you are dealing with, how aggressive it is, and what to expect from treatment. You can also contact The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Information Resource Center to ask about appropriate clinical trials or to be connected with a survivor who has been treated for the same disease.
Is doing nothing really an option? It may sound crazy to hear a doctor tell you to just “watch and wait” but for certain blood cancers that can really be the recommended treatment plan. Some patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, indolent non-Hodgkin lymphomas, or in the early stages of some other blood cancers, can go for years with no treatment at all as long as no other issues arise. However, it would still be important for you to continue to go for regular visits to be monitored by your doctor.
Andy Whitfield had everything to live for. A rising star, he was playing a leading role in the hit television series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” and building a healthy resume of both TV and film credits. He was raising two young children with the love of his life, his wife Vashti.
In March 2010, he received the worst kind of news: he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, given his age and fitness, they had every expectation that he would recover. He began chemotherapy immediately and was declared cancer free in six weeks. Unfortunately, the disease returned only a few months later.
Whitfield was forced to abandon his television role, and a year later, he died at the age of 39.
Early on in his journey, Whitfield and his wife made the decision to allow Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lilibet Foster to document his experience of healing. They were confident he would prevail in his fight and hoped that sharing his story would inspire others who have challenges and dreams.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society collaborated on the eventual release of the documentary, “Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story),” to spread awareness about the urgent need to find cures and ensure access to treatments for blood cancer patients.
The film is now playing in limited release with LLS chapters hosting a number of public screenings as a way to raise funds and generate awareness for the LLS mission. LLS hopes that Whitfield’s story will also serve as a public testament as to why we support research.
Thanks to research, survival rates for patients with many blood cancers have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled since the early 1960s. However, despite these advances, about one third of patients with a blood cancer (such as Whitfield) still do not survive, which is why funding is needed to bring better therapies to patients faster.