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Researchers at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas evaluated trends over time in the survival of patients with stage IV follicular lymphoma; they found that survival improved notably between 1972 and 2002.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a form of cancer that begins in the cells of the lymph system. The lymph system includes the spleen, thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and circulating immune cells. The main cells in the lymph system are lymphocytes, which exist in two forms: B and T-cells. Each of these cells has a specific function in fighting infection.

NHL is characterized by the excessive accumulation of atypical (cancerous) lymphocytes. These lymphocytes can crowd the lymph system and suppress the formation and function of other immune and blood cells. NHL is categorized by the type of lymphocyte it involves and by the rate at which the cancer grows-both are determined by the cells’ appearance under a microscope.

Follicular lymphoma is considered a low-grade or indolent lymphoma, which means that it is a slow-growing subset of NHL. Although patients with advanced follicular lymphoma may survive for many years, the disease is generally considered incurable.

Because treatment of follicular NHL has evolved, researchers at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas evaluated how survival has changed over time. They assessed 580 patients who were treated for stage IV follicular lymphoma between 1972 and 2002. Treatment varied during this period. Patients in the most recent time period (1997 to 2002) were treated with FND (fludarabine, mitoxantrone, and dexamethasone) with concurrent or sequential rituximab followed by interferon.

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Researchers observed improved survival over time:

  • Between 1972 and 2002, the proportion of patients surviving for at least five years increased from 64% to 95%.
  • The proportion of patients surviving for at least five-years without lymphoma relapse or progression increased from 29% to 60%.

The researchers conclude that newer approaches to treatment have resulted in improved survival among patients with stage IV follicular lymphoma.

Reference: Liu Q, Fayad L, Cabanillas F et al. Improvement of Overall and Failure-Free Survival in Stage IV Follicular Lymphoma: 25 Years of Treatment Experience at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Journal of Clinical Oncology . 2006;24:1582-1589.

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