Mantle cell lymphoma is a rare and often fast-growing cancer that shares some things in common with other lymphomas -- but also has a lot of differences. If you've been recently diagnosed, you'll want to learn about its unique features so you can get the treatment that works best.
Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphocytes. These are infection-fighting white blood cells that are part of your immune system, the body's defense against germs.
Mantle cell lymphoma differs from other types of lymphoma in a few ways, such as:
- Where it starts
- What causes it
- How it grows
- Who gets it
- What happens after treatment
Where It Starts
Doctors divide lymphomas into two groups: Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's. Each starts in a different kind of white blood cell -- B cell or T cell.
Mantle cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It grows in B cells, which make proteins called antibodies that help the body fight germs. About 5% of all lymphomas, and 2% to 7% of all non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, are mantle cell.
This cancer is called mantle cell because the abnormal B cells come from an area called the "mantle zone" in lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are bean-sized glands in your neck, groin, armpits, and other parts of your body that contain lymphocytes.
A system of channels connects the lymph nodes. Cancerous B cells can get into these channels and spread to other parts of the body, like the liver, stomach, intestines, or bone marrow -- the spongy center of bones that makes blood cells.
What Causes It
Doctors don't know exactly what causes mantle cell lymphoma.
More than 90% of people with this cancer have a gene change that leads them to make too much of a protein called cyclin D1. This protein allows abnormal B cells to divide and grow out of control.
Testing for cyclin D1 is one way that doctors diagnose mantle cell lymphoma.
How It Grows
Doctors divide lymphomas into categories based on how fast they grow and how the cells look under a microscope. Fast-growing lymphomas are called high-grade. Slow-growing lymphomas are called low-grade or indolent.
Mantle cell lymphoma is unusual because it can look and act like both high-grade and low-grade lymphomas. Mantle cell lymphoma cells are small. They look like low-grade lymphoma cells under a microscope, yet they spread very quickly like a high-grade cancer.
A small number of people with mantle cell lymphoma have a slower-growing form.
Who Gets It
Mantle cell lymphoma is much more common in men than women, and it often starts later in life. Most people who get this cancer are diagnosed in their late 50s to mid-60s. It rarely affects young people.
Because mantle cell lymphoma often grows quickly, it has often already spread by the time a doctor diagnoses the disease.
Doctors treat mantle cell lymphoma in much the same way they treat other types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, with chemotherapy and other drugs. Many of the treatments combine the monoclonal antibody rituximab (Rituxan) with a few different chemotherapy drugs.
What Happens After Treatment
Treatment can put mantle cell lymphoma into remission -- which means there are no longer signs of cancer. But the disease can come back. Your doctor can tell you about drugs that are approved by the FDA to treat mantle cell lymphoma that returns.
Researchers are testing new medicines and drug combinations that may also be helpful.