Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) is a cancer that starts in the part of the body’s immune system known as the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is composed of lymphoid tissue, lymph and lymphatic vessels. Lymphoid tissue, made up primarily of white blood cells called lymphocytes, is found in many parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow (soft, spongy tissue in the center of most bones), thymus, adenoids and tonsils, and digestive tract.

The two main classifications of this type of lymphoma are classic HL and nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL). Classic HL accounts for most Hodgkin lymphoma cases.

The cure rate for HL is generally high. Standard treatment is chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or a combination of both. Although advances in both the diagnosis and treatment of HL have helped contribute to a high cure rate, researchers have continued to look for additional options for people who have hard-to-treat HL. Until recently, if the disease progressed, returned after treatment or stopped responding to treatment, the primary option was high doses of chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplantation and additional drug therapy. Surgery also may be considered under special circumstances but is used primarily to obtain a biopsy for diagnostic purposes.

Today, people with hard-to-treat HL have a new treatment option in immunotherapy.

In September 2016, the FDA approved an immunotherapy drug for classic HL that has returned or progressed after a specific type of stem cell transplantation and post-transplantation medicine.

This particular type of immunotherapy is a monoclonal antibody that inhibits a protein receptor called PD-1 on T-cells, a type of immune cell. PD-1 belongs to a family of so-called checkpoint inhibitors that, when activated, “put the brakes on” the immune system. As a result, this type of immunotherapy prevents tumor cells from communicating through the PD-1 protein to inactivate T-cells, allowing the immune system to attack the tumor cells. Clinical studies for HL have shown that this checkpoint inhibitor is effective at shrinking the tumors.

This treatment option brings with it new hope for people with relapsed HL. Researchers are using clinical trials to continue exploring the use of this immunotherapy drug in combination with other therapies, as well as new drugs, to treat all stages of HL. Before making any treatment decisions, ask your doctor if this new immunotherapy drug is right for you or if you may be a candidate for a clinical trial.


FDA-Approved Immunotherapies for Hodgkin Lymphoma
As of 10/26/2016
nivolumab (Opdivo)

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