Actor Sam Neill Shares Blood Cancer Update

By Steve Blanchard - October 20, 2023

More than seven months after Sam Neill revealed his angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma diagnosis, the actor remains in remission but is prepared if the non-Hodgkin blood cancer returns.

“I know I’ve got it, but I’m not really interested in it,” Neill told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “It’s out of my control. If you can’t control it, don’t get into it.”

According to Dr. Hayder Saeed, a hematologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma is a subtype of mature T-cell lymphoma, which is rarer than other common B-cell lymphomas.

“It is characterized by many changes in the cancer genome leading to exposure of unrestricted growth genes in the malignant cells,” Saeed said. “It has been linked to exposure or reactivation of a viral infection called Epstein-Barr Virus.”

Neill, known for his work in television and the “Jurassic Park” films, said that after three months of chemotherapy, the treatment stopped working. His doctors switched courses to try “a rare anti-cancer drug” and it’s had some success, Neill said.

Receiving doses of the drug every two weeks helped usher him into remission, though doctors have told him that eventually it will cease to be effective.

Saeed said that is to be expected with this type of cancer.

portrait of blockquote author

"There are some drugs, currently FDA approved, that modify the cancer genome and render it more sensitive to dying."

- Dr. Hayder Saeed, Malignant Hematology Program

“In the relapse setting, options are limited,” Saeed said. “However, there are some drugs, currently FDA approved, that modify the cancer genome and render it more sensitive to dying. Those drugs have been shown to control the disease.”

Ultimately, he said, the disease will relapse and patients must move to another line of treatment.

That’s why clinical trials are so important, Saeed said.

“We encourage enrollment in clinical trials because of lack of effective regimens in this setting,” Saeed said. “It is a dire area of need in cancer. We do have two clinical trials using combinations of those genome modifying drugs with other agents to help improve control on this disease.”

Neill said he is not “remotely afraid” of dying and plans to continue working, adding that he’s more afraid of retiring than anything.

Patients with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma are encouraged to pay attention to changes in their body and symptoms and to seek medical attention when necessary. Neill told The Guardian earlier this year that he feels fortunate to be alive and is looking forward to future projects.

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