Stem cell therapy has been used as a treatment option for a number of conditions such as lupus and ALS. However, could it also be of benefit to patients with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? In this article, we’ll explore if stem cell therapy is a viable treatment option for patients with this condition. We will also uncover the advantages, limitations, and future of stem cell therapy for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Before we jump into how stem cells can help patients with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, let’s first gain an understanding of what the condition is. In short, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a component of the immune system, which we know helps us fight infections. The lymph system also helps in moving fluid throughout the body.
The cancer develops when there’s an abnormal change in a lymph node or lymphocyte. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell and there are three main types:
- B Cells – They produce antibodies to combat infections.
- T Cells – They help B cells fight off infection by destroying abnormal cells in the body. They also enhance or slow down the activity of the other immune system cells.
- NK (natural killer) Cells – These attack virus-infected cells and tumor cells.
While B cells and T cells can both become abnormal, 85 percent of patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma start off having complications with the B cells.
The Types of Lymphomas
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can grow and spread at different rates. It really depends on what type it is. Indolent lymphomas grow and spread more slowly, so treatment may not begin right away. Aggressive lymphoma, on the other hand, grows and spreads very quickly and requires treatment immediately. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common type of aggressive lymphoma. They account for about 1 out of every 3 lymphomas.
Other types of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
- Follicular lymphoma – 1 out of 5 lymphomas in the U.S. are this type.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL)
- Mantle cell lymphoma – 5 percent of lymphomas fall into this category
- Marginal zone lymphoma – This accounts for approximately 5 to 10 percent of lymphomas
- Burkitt lymphoma – Accounts for 1 to 2 percent of lymphomas. This is more common in males and children.
- Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma
- Hairy cell leukemia
- CNS lymphoma
- Precursor T-lymphoblastic leukemia
- Peripheral T-cell lymphomas
- And more
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Where Does It Begin?
Since lymph nodes are throughout the body, lymphomas can start practically anywhere. Here is where lymph tissue is predominantly found:
- Digestive tract
- Bone marrow
- Lymph nodes
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are:
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- The feeling of fullness
- Chest pain
Treat Options for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
To date, there are currently four types of treatment options for patients with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Those treatment options are: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and stem cell transplantation.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment option but it has a number of side effects. Whether it is given intravenously, in pill form, or an injection – the treatment option can be draining. Potential side effects include anemia, heart muscle damage, neuropathy, and more.
Targeted therapy are drugs and other substances that look for gene mutations on cancer cells and then kills them. It’s an evolving treatment that can be administered at the hospital, taken at home, or prescribed in pill form.
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Stem Cell Therapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Patients with hard to treat Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be recommended by their doctor to try stem cell transplantation. Sometimes when people get chemotherapy or radiation, the disease goes into remission, but it comes back. This might be due to the amount of chemotherapy used. Smaller doses are typically used to prevent destruction. A large dose could significantly damage the bone marrow, which is where new blood cells are made.
However, if a patient gets stem cell transplantation, a higher dose of chemotherapy would be used. This practice is okay because following the chemo treatment patients are given a stem cell transplant. This process is supposed to help them rebuild their bone marrow in an environment that’s free of cancer cells.
Choosing The Type of Transplant
Most patients with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that get a stem cell transplant usually undergo the autologous transplant. This method allows a patient to use their own blood stem cells. Prior to the treatment, the blood cells will be collected from the patient, frozen, and given back via IV after chemo.
The other approach is allogenic, which is where the patient uses blood stem cells from someone else. When it comes to treating Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this method is used only if the autologous method wasn’t successful.
One Patient’s Story
A patient named Katie got a stem cell transplant after the chemotherapy and radioimmunology treatment failed. She was trying to avoid it, but the doctor considered this option to be her last chance. Katie’s story is similar to others who’ve had the condition. She didn’t have any of the symptoms associated with this form of cancer, but a CT scan revealed a 15 millimeter mass in her abdomen. She had Stage 4 follicular monocleave cell lymphoma, which was the slow progressing form of the condition.
While Katie still takes medication for the graft-versus-host disease, she considers it a small price to pay for getting the opportunity to watch her kids grow up.
The Future of Stem Cell Therapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Today, much of stem cell research is being devoted to T-cell immunotherapy. Clinical trials all over the world are showing promise regarding the reprogramming of stem cells into T-cells that could target and destroy cancer cells.
Two studies reported in December 2017, showed that CAR (chimeric antigen receptors) T-cell therapy has been found to have long-lasting remissions in patients with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Is it possible that one day Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma could be cured with stem cells? We think so! So much has been discovered already, but there is certainly more to be found.