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What 'breakthrough therapy' was discovered for Hodgkin lymphoma?

Researchers at the Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently published a truly eye-opening study in the New England Journal of Medicine outlining what could prove to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma, a condition which claims over 1,000 lives here in the U.S. every year.

What exactly is Hodgkin lymphoma?

For those unfamiliar with Hodgkin lymphoma, it is essentially a cancer of the white blood cells known as lymphocytes that appears in higher rates among both children and young adults. Indeed, statistics show there are close to 10,000 new cases in the U.S. every year.

Is Hodgkin lymphoma responsive to treatment?

In general, the condition is incredibly responsive to chemotherapy. However, roughly 25 percent of those diagnosed with the condition suffer a relapse, while others simply do not respond to the treatment in any capacity. Unfortunately, those who fall into this latter category generally succumb to their condition.

What was the major treatment breakthrough made in the study?

The researchers took 23 patients whose Hodgkin lymphoma was considered both incurable and fatal despite multiple rounds of treatment, and administered a drug called nivolumab that is designed to free up the immune system to fight cancer cells.

How well did the nivolumab work?

At the conclusion of the nivolumab treatment regimen, 16 of the patients saw their tumors shrink to less than half of their original size, while four of the patients saw their tumors disappear altogether.

Six months later, 86 percent of the Hodgkin lymphoma patients were alive and continuing to respond to the therapy and the majority of patients continued to thrive one year later.

What's next concerning this "breakthrough therapy?"

A phase 2 study utilizing a larger patient pool is now underway in an attempt to learn more.

The results of this study are beyond encouraging and should give new hope to thousands of families. In the meantime, those people diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma who are unable to work during the course of their debilitating treatment should understand that they may be able to seek Social Security disability benefits to help make ends meet.

Source: WebMD, "Hodgkin lymphoma treatment shows promise," Robert Preidt, Dec. 6, 2014

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