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New Treatments for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has nearly doubled since the 1970s, but advances in treatments are offering new hope.

WebMD Feature

Laura Colton Tepper had just endured her second round of chemotherapy for her slow-growing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), and this time, things looked good.

"Everything had just melted away," Laura said. She and her husband headed to Puerto Rico, warm and far away, to celebrate and relax. But on just her second day off the plane, Laura found she had another, unwelcome travel companion. "I noticed I had a huge lump in my neck," she said. Her next step: "Panic."

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Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin's disease, is a type of lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of nodes (knots of tissue) connected by vessels that drain fluid and waste products from the body. The lymph nodes act as tiny filters, straining out foreign organisms and cells. The lymphatic system also is involved in producing important white blood cells called lymphocytes that help protect you against various infections caused by bacteria, viruses,...

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Laura knew that usually each cycle of chemotherapy bought less and less time between relapses. This remission had lasted only six months. She was not yet 50. Her cousin had just died after living with her own lymphoma for seven years. Though Laura's lymphoma was growing slowly, she said, "It was odds I didn't like."

So Laura's oncologist enrolled her in a clinical trial comparing two new NHL drugs. She underwent a third round of chemotherapy, then a fourth, so sure that final round would work. She was right. Today, eight years later, Laura still nervously checks herself for any new lumps or bumps. But relief and hope give her voice a lift when she says: "I'm still in remission."

NHL: Diagnoses Are Up; So Are Options

Laura is among the 54,000 Americans diagnosed each year with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) - once uncommon cancers of the immune system. The rate of NHL in the U.S. has nearly doubled since the 1970s. And for many people with these cancers, like Laura, relapse scenarios are all too familiar. But treatment options for NHL are on the rise.

Rising rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the U.S. are likely due to more widespread use of drugs that affect the immune system, according to Stephanie Gregory, MD, oncologist and professor of medicine at Rush University Medical Center.

"We're helping people with autoimmune diseases and organ transplants to live longer," she tells WebMD. Part of the cost is "an increase in the incidence of lymphomas."

And non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can defy generalization, because there are over 20 different forms of the disease.

"You could be in a room with 100 people with lymphoma and at most only 30 people would have the same thing you're dealing with," John Leonard, MD, director of the Cornell Center for Lymphoma and Myeloma at Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells WebMD.

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