Most patients diagnosed with lymphoma discuss the possibility of chemotherapy with a healthcare professional at some point. Chemotherapy is a standard of care for many forms of lymphoma, but most patients will experience multiple relapses.
Chemotherapy is a broad spectrum treatment that stops cell growth and division throughout the body, which can lead to side effects. Chemotherapies cannot differentiate between cancer cells and normal cells, so they also attack fast-growing but healthy cells, such as hair follicles and the cells lining the gut. That damage can lead to both short and long-term side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, a compromised immune system, fertility loss and an increased risk of infection or a second primary cancer.
While the benefits of chemotherapy often outweigh the risks, patients are eager for alternative solutions. Thankfully, research continues to look at different treatment pathways.
“We are learning a great deal about lymphoma subtypes and making progress in the discovery and development of new approaches that may improve quality of life,” Meghan Gutierrez, chief executive officer of the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF), said. “There is meaningful interest in exploring potential new treatments and combinations, many of which are chemotherapy-free.”
Lymphomas are caused by changes in immune cells called lymphocytes. In patients with lymphoma, the body makes many of these defective lymphoma cells that may not be detected by normal immune cells, which can properly fight infection and disease, including cancer. Restoring the immune system’s ability to fight cancer is a growing trend that has led to the development of immunomodulatory therapies, which can boost the tumor-killing cells of the immune system.
Investigators continue to explore new approaches focused on stimulating the immune system for patients with lymphoma.
The inherent ability of some types of immune cells to attack tumors relies on “tags” called antibodies on the surface of cancer cells. This killing process is known as antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). In fact, several approved lymphoma therapies are antibodies that attach to cancer cells, leading the immune system to better identify and attack them. Researchers are now studying whether combining these antibody therapies with immunomodulatory therapies might further enhance cancer-killing ADCC, without the need for chemotherapy.
With further understanding of how both of these types of treatment work, separately and in combination, there is a potential to improve outcomes.
“Investigators continue to explore new approaches focused on stimulating the immune system for patients with lymphoma,” Gutierrez said. “It’s an incredibly exciting time as research is constantly evolving.”