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American Society of Clinical Oncology Advancing Cancer Progress for 50 Years

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Sonali Smith, MD, Lymphoma Timeline Editor, discusses progress

Lymphoma

Lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic cells of the immune system, was one of the first types of cancer to be considered curable. In the 1970s, the success of combination chemotherapy – using multiple drugs to overcome cancer cells' resistance to treatment – in curing patients with Hodgkin lymphoma helped inspire the nation's new investments in cancer research. Since that time, continued advances have led to very high cure rates for some forms of lymphoma, while helping to reduce side effects and improve patients' lives. For example:

    • Since 1997, the use of monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab (Rituxan), has increased the survival of patients with low-grade lymphomas and increased the curability of patients with aggressive lymphomas, without adding significant new side effects.
    • Thanks to advances in imaging technology, including CT and PET scanning, nearly all lymphoma patients are now spared the "exploratory" surgeries that were once needed to assess their disease.
    • Potentially life-saving bone marrow and stem cell transplants have become much less difficult for patients, and more readily available. In many cases, patients can now serve as their own donors.

Despite these advances, lymphoma is not always curable, and more than 20,000 Americans still die from the disease each year. But researchers are gaining a deeper understanding of the biology of lymphoma, which they now know consists of more than 60 unique cancer subtypes. This information is helping to determine which patients need more aggressive therapy, and is guiding the search for new treatments.

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