Hope on the Horizon
Friday, July 25, 2014
New treatments are emerging for patients with blood cancers
There are dozens of subtypes of leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. But these cancers all have something in common: they flow through the bloodstream and lymph system.
Grouped under the heading “blood cancers,” these fluid tumors generally can’t be removed surgically, as might be the case with a solid mass. However, treatments are available and medical advances are leading to promising new therapies that may help current and future patients.
“Blood cancers are diseases that begin either in the body’s bone marrow or blood-producing systems, or in the lymph nodes,” says Radhakrishnan Ramchandren, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Oncology and member of the Malignant Hematology Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center. “Blood circulates in all of our organs and lymph nodes. This allows these ‘liquid’ tumors to flow and migrate through the body.”
Cancerous blood cells may interrupt normal blood cell development, which can prevent the body from performing functions like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding.
“Some blood cancers are not as easy as others to detect at an early stage and not all blood cancers require treatment immediately after diagnosis,” Dr. Ramchandren says. “Some blood cancers grow slowly, others grow quickly.”
Since blood cancers like solid cancers develop at the cellular level, doctors typically use chemotherapy, sometimes in combination with radiation therapy, to treat the disease. In certain instances a stem cell or “bone marrow” transplant may be necessary. Fortunately for patients, Karmanos’ bone marrow transplant program is one of the largest and most active transplant centers in the United States. The Karmanos bone marrow transplant team also reports some of the best survival outcomes for related and unrelated stem cell transplantation, according to Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Registry data.
Cure rates for blood cancers vary. Some diseases, like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, have about an 80 percent cure rate, while others cannot be cured at all but can be managed for many years, Dr. Ramchandren says.
“Many patients are also living longer with blood cancers,” he says. “We have a much better understanding of cancer biology than we did even 10 years ago. That knowledge is helping to improve the blood cancer survival rate.”
The Clinical Trials Program at Karmanos is conducting many studies that may lead to treatment breakthroughs for blood cancers. Patients who opt for a clinical trial receive newly developed cancer-fighting drugs that aren’t available commercially or in most community hospitals.
“We have many clinical trials evaluating new treatments for a large variety of blood cancer subtypes,” Dr. Ramchandren says. “Some of these drugs have been very effective and have already received FDA approvals. We’re continually developing new treatments, which are promising for patients who are diagnosed with these diseases.”
BLOOD CANCERS SUPPORT PROGRAM AT KARMANOS
The Patient and Family Support Program for Blood Cancers is a collaboration between the Karmanos Cancer Center and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Patients and families meet quarterly with cancer experts—including physicians, nurses and social workers—to discuss issues unique to those facing blood cancers. To learn more, call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266) or visit karmanos.org/BloodCancerSupport.