Some patients in remission from the blood cancer called follicular lymphoma can be considered cured, a new small study suggests.
Using DNA sequencing, researchers were able to test the patients' blood to see if mutations that caused the cancer were still present two years after treatment. If these mutations aren't found, the patient can be given a clean bill of health, the study authors said.
"While follicular lymphoma is not one of the more aggressive types of cancer we treat, the majority of patients continue to experience disease recurrence over many years and have to receive different types of therapy," explained researcher Dr. Maryam Sarraf Yazdy. She is a hematologist/oncologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, in Washington, D.C.
"This disease has been considered incurable, but for some patients who have been disease-free for at least two years after remission, our pilot study gives hope that calling the disease incurable may no longer be accurate," she said in an American Society of Hematology news release.
Follicular lymphoma makes up about one-third of all non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. About 20,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the United States each year.
The 68 people with follicular lymphoma in the study had all the usual treatments and had been in remission for more than two years. Of these patients, 43 were included in the final data.
First, the researchers examined biopsy samples of the patients' lymphoma cells after their initial diagnoses. Next, the investigators examined samples of the patients' blood to see if any mutated cells were still there.
Among the 43 patients, 38 did not show any evidence of lymphoma in their blood, according to the report.
"More important than anything perhaps, is the lifting of the psychological burden these patients faced with a diagnosis of a presumed incurable disease," Yazdy said.
But larger studies are needed to verify these findings, she noted.
"This is a pilot study in a small number of patients with a short follow-up time. We need to do more work, study a larger number of patients, and monitor them for a longer time, but this is an important first step," Yazdy said.
The research was funded by Adaptive Biotechnologies, which makes the gene sequencing test for follicular lymphoma.
The findings were presented Sunday at the meeting of the American Society of Hematology, in Orlando, Fla. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more on follicular lymphoma, head to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
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