You’ve been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Now What?

By Steve Blanchard - July 31, 2019

When patients learn they have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, questions flood their mind. What is their chance of survival? What treatment options are available?

Moffitt Cancer Center and the Florida Society of Clinical Oncology hope to answer some of those questions with a Living with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma event on Aug. 8 at the Four Points by Sheraton Suites in Tampa. Moffitt hematologist Hayder Saeed, M.D., will moderate The Florida Society of Clinical Oncology’s Living With Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma event, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

The free presentation includes panelists from Moffitt and Tampa General Hospital and wraps with a Q&A session with all participants. Registration is free for patients and caregivers. Those who plan to attend are encouraged to RSVP online.

To better understand the disease and how to live with it, we asked Saeed about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and what’s happening in research to increase the effectiveness of treatment.

What advice do you give to people who are first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?
The first thing I provide patients with is assurance. We have achieved great progress in the management of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The treatment now spans from tolerable chemotherapy to different forms of targeted therapy and, most recently, the FDA approved cellular therapy.

Many of the therapies are now provided as pill form that the patient can take at home. All those options spare the patient many of the side effects that traditionally used to be associated with cancer treatment. I encourage them to continue with their normal activity as much as possible. Most of the patients are surprised at how little treatment effects on their daily activity.

What are some of the newer therapies and treatments that are assisting those living with this disease and are they offering additional hope to patients?
Although we have some of the best overall survival outcomes seen in non-Hodgkin lymphoma, we still have not been able to cure some of the forms of this lymphoma. However, the treatments we offer can put the patient in long term remission and science is accelerating. We are seeing some encouraging approvals and success stories for newer therapies. Even for some of the non-curable lymphomas, we might be talking about cure in the foreseable future and that gives hope to patients to continue their fight.

In your opinion, what are some of the most common misconceptions about this disease and those living with it?
I think the concern I have with most patients is their fear of “cancer treatment.” It has been depicted in the media that cancer therapy would lead the patients to spending countless hours in the hospital, suffering from side effects such as nausea, vomiting and pain. That is not the case for all of the therapies we use for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Patients also often ask me how long they have left to live. We do not look at the patient as a number and a statistic. The numbers we have help us design a treatment plan for the patient that fits their life and assures the best outcome possible. I always try to shift focus to the “full half of the cup” and focus on the chances of beating this disease.

One difficult explanation I have to make is explaining the significance of stage in non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Stage IV is not the same that they hear of in some other solid tumors. We have possible cure rates of up to 60% and more in some subtypes of stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Stem Cell Transplants are a common way to treat this disease. Are patients typically fairly well versed in this procedure or is it still foreign to many of them? How do you prepare them for a transplant?
Stem cell transplant continues to constitute an essential part of therapy in some of the subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphomas. I assure the patients that here at Moffitt we have excellent collaboration with the stem cell transplant team and continuous meetings and multidisciplinary discussions to cover every aspect of the patients route during the transplant and to make sure we provide the best possible outcome.

The cellular therapy team, which is in charge of stem cell transplant and other forms of cellular therapies such as Chimeric Antigen Receptors T cells (CAR-T- cells), discusses every individual patient to assure the best form of therapy will be provided.

Part of this event’s agenda deals with caregivers. What advice do you have for the caregivers who are living with and taking care of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients?
I think having a caregiver is an important aspect of the patient’s success in managing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I try to involve the caregiver in the discussion from the start. The caregiver’s understanding of what to expect is essential for alleviating patient fear and infusing confidence in the team to take good care of them.

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