While lymphoma is the most common kind of blood cancer, it has so many subtypes that can be overlooked in the medical community, particularly if it is a rare kind. As the Lymphoma Research Foundation says, “Lymphoma occurs when cells of the immune system called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, grow and multiply uncontrollably. Cancerous lymphocytes can travel to many parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood, or other organs, and form a mass called a tumor. The body has two main types of lymphocytes that can develop into lymphomas: B-lymphocytes (B-cells) and T-lymphocytes (T-cells).”
This being the case, mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) is a rare B-cell cancer that falls under the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma spectrum. It is an oftentimes aggressive disease that mostly targets men above the age of 60. It comprises about five percent of those who are suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the country. As WebMD writes, MCL has already spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system, so that by the time a diagnosis is made, it may already have been too late. However, numerous breakthroughs in the medical community can prove that combatting this disease may be at hand.
A “Cure” in the Horizon
According to a 2016 article published on the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a promising new treatment is being explored by experts as the median survival has doubled in the last two decades, following the clinical studies. “We have made so much progress in treating mantle cell lymphoma,” wrote study co-author Dr. Michael L. Wang. “It used to have a median survival of three to five years, but in younger patients treated with intensive regimens, the overall survival now exceeds ten years.”
Dr. Wang and his colleagues based their theory on the fact that the cancer is vulnerable to a frontline attack. Therefore, younger and fitter patients were given an intensive treatment plan that uses the medicines Ibrutinib and rituximab. However, the aggressive treatment may prove to be too toxic for patients of more advanced aged, who are then given more conservative bendamustine/rituximab (BR) salvage therapies.
However, a 2017 paper published on Nature Communications shows that many patients given Ibrutinib to treat MCL has developed a resistance to the medicine. The researchers noticed that when the medication has effectively shut down the pathway where the malignant cells grew, the cells then activated another pathway. In this case, when the cells have transferred to a different pathway, they brought along an immunity to the medicine that cut them off in the first place. In this way, the cancer is then able to return and wreak more havoc than before, as it has become more destructive than it initially was.
Nevertheless, the medical community has adapted to these findings. Experts are now looking into finding ways to trap these cancerous cells once and for all and to prohibit them from opening new pathways and therefore spreading further. However, finding an accurate and effective treatment plan for all patients is yet proving to be challenging, given that MCL is a rare cancer to begin with. Its rarity is therefore proving to be an obstacle into giving researchers more concrete data that would help them to find a more effective cure.