Published on October 17, 2020
What Should New Hodgkin Lymphoma Patients Know?
What is Hodgkin lymphoma? How does it differ from non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers? How (and why) does it develop? Is there a cure? If you or someone close to you has recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, these questions may have crossed your mind.
Dr. Josh Brody, director of the Lymphoma Immunotherapy Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, addresses these questions and more. As a doctor and lymphoma expert, he explains the disease in detail, shares insights on the typical prognosis for Hodgkin lymphoma and gives his advice for newly diagnosed patients.
Transcript | Doctor’s Advice for New Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis
Dr. Brody: The good, good majority of patients with Hodgkin lymphoma are cured and then go on to lead a pretty normal life for years or decades after that. More than 90% of people with early-stage Hodgkin's cured. More than 70%, maybe three-quarters of patients with advanced-stage Hodgkin's, still cured.
What Is Hodgkin Lymphoma?
Describing lymphomas or Hodgkin's lymphomas to people can be a little confusing because people think of breast cancer, it's very simple. A breast cell gets a little screwed up and it becomes breast cancer. A lung cell gets a little screwed up and it becomes lung cancer. Lymphomas, including Hodgkin lymphoma, is a cancer of a cell we don't think about as much.
But you have blood cells, many types, but one of the blood cells is called the lymphocyte and when the lymphocyte gets a bit screwed up it can become a lymphoma, and a subset of them can become Hodgkin lymphoma. And these tumor cells grow into tumors and these are generally just large lumps of these tumor cells.
And if the lumps get large enough, they can push on healthy structures, your lungs, your heart, normal things, and that's how they could harm you. It's not that complicated. It just sounds a little bit confusing and not as obvious as other types of cancer. It is a type of cancer, but luckily one that we can cure for most patients.
What Advice Do You Have for a New Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis?
I mean, the most important thing that I would have a family member or a loved one know about for Hodgkin lymphoma is the just amazing, unbelievable progress we've made with this cancer over the past 50 years. I had a grandpa, he had a few sisters, but his favorite sister in 1948 got Hodgkin lymphoma and she died of it and we did not have good therapies back then those many years ago. The progress, it's just unbelievable.
Now from what was used to being an incurable cancer, we're able to cure the majority of patients thankfully. And it comes at a cost, a cost of some lost time when you’re getting chemotherapy and feeling not great, but not too terrible, but that cost is hopefully a small one compared to the whole life you get afterward, after having hopefully been cured.
What Has Been Your Experience as a Lymphoma Doctor?
Being an oncologist, when I tell people that this is my job, some of them say, "Oh, that must be very depressing." Occasionally it is depressing. Occasionally, we can't help people that we're really committed to. And even the worst version of that is when there's someone that we thought we really could help and then just the therapies aren't good enough.
But conversely, we get to do sometimes dramatic rescues of people who are in a horrible situation, people with very advanced cancer. And the truth is, I'm very lucky to kind of be in this lymphoma space where the therapies are sometimes so good that we can really have patients, not to be dramatic, but at death's door with a lot of tumors because maybe it didn't get diagnosed for a long time or it was very rapidly progressing, and we can sometimes completely turn that around.