Cancer Research UK. Published online: 22 June 2016
Hodgkin lymphoma patients can be spared the serious side effects of chemotherapy thanks to high-tech scans that can predict the outcome of treatment, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine
Doctors – funded by Cancer Research UK and international partners in Europe and Australasia – used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan more than 1200 patients with advanced Hodgkin lymphoma after they had been given two cycles of standard chemotherapy. Those who had a clear PET scan were split into two groups – one group continued with chemotherapy including the drug bleomycin and the other had chemotherapy without the drug. They found that patients who stopped having bleomycin had the same survival rates as those who continued it. But, importantly, they were spared side effects. Patients on the trial who did not have a clear PET scan after two rounds of chemotherapy, suggesting they had a more resistant form of the disease, were given more intense chemotherapy treatment.
Bleomycin has been an important drug to treat Hodgkin lymphoma for 30 years, but it has a potential risk of severe effects on the lungs, with the risk of scarring, even years later, that can lead to serious breathing problems. Due to these risks the researchers wanted to explore the potential of adapting treatment by stopping bleomycin for patients with a good outlook and escalating treatment only for those at highest risk of the treatment not working.
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