PET scans spare lymphoma patients unnecessary chemotherapy

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found a way of using high tech scans to tailor chemotherapy treatments for patients with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It means many could avoid the use of bleomycin, a chemotherapy drug known to carry significant long terms side effects, which currently forms the mainstay of treatment for the disease.

The study used PET scans to identify patients likely to have good outcomes and adapted their chemotherapy regimen accordingly. Researchers were able to show that removing bleomycin, a commonly used chemotherapy drug, from the treatment protocol for these low risk patients had no adverse effect on 3 year survival rates.

Whilst low risk Hodgkin's lymphoma has a high cure rate, up to 95%, the side effects from bleomycin can have long lasting consequences such as infertility and lung scarring. That’s why the researchers behind this study wanted to find a way of maintaining this high survival rate without the nasty side effects.

Professor Peter Johnson who lead the study for Cancer Research UK explains “Knowing which patients have a more difficult to treat form of the disease means we can select those who need stronger chemotherapy, while sparing everyone else the severe side effects such as infertility. This approach, along with a reduction in the need for radiotherapy, should substantially reduce damage to healthy tissues and the risk of second cancers caused by treatments.”

“Personalising treatment based on how well it works is a major development for patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, and sets a new standard of care”.

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