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Survival from non-Hodgkin lymphoma doubles since 1970s

Better treatments and diagnosis boost survival, says report

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 24 May 2013

Survival rates from non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) have doubled since the early 1970s thanks to better treatment and diagnosis, according to a new report from Cancer Research UK.

The charity said that more than half of patients diagnosed with the disease are now surviving compared with the early 1970s, when less than a quarter of people survived their disease for at least 10 years.

The report, co-authored with the Haematological Malignancy Research Network and supported by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, shows that NHL rates have doubled since the 1970s, but predicts that more than half of those people diagnosed today will survive the disease for at least 10 years.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Causes of this disease, which affects white blood cells, are still largely unknown, although problems with the immune system are thought to be involved.

The main reasons for the improvement in survival are better treatments, says the report, particularly the drug rituximab, and earlier diagnosis linked to improved understanding of the disease.

The presents population-based estimates of survival for some of the sub-types of the disease and shows large variation by NHL sub-type.

Patients who are diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma – a rare but aggressive sub-type – have only a one in four chance of surviving for more than five years.

In contrast, around nine in 10 people diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, which is more common and develops more slowly, survive for at least five years.

Dr Russell Patmore, consultant haematologist at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and one of the report’s authors, said: “Years of research have improved our understanding of NHL and how best to treat it.

“We now know there are more than 20 sub-types of the disease, each with their own distinct patterns of incidence and prognosis. By knowing which type we’re dealing with, treatment can be tailored so it has the greatest benefit to patients.

“When we know the type of lymphoma we’re dealing with, we can use more targeted therapies like rituximab.

“It’s important that future research focuses on early detection and classification of lymphoma sub-types, as well as improving the quality of life for people living with the disease.”

Catherine Thomson, head of statistics at Cancer Research UK, said: “This report presents the first population-based estimates of survival by sub-type and we’re seeing there are clear differences in outlook depending on which sub-type you have.

“As well as disease type, we know that age, sex and the stage at which you’re diagnosed all play their parts in predicting the chances of survival. But the overall picture is positive compared with the early 1970s and research is helping to improve things today.”

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