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NorthShore Harnessing T-Cells to Fight Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Thursday, October 06, 2022 2:17 PM

Actress Jane Fonda one of many Americans fighting this common cancer

By Susan J. White


woman with pink headscarf fighting cancerWhen Jane Fonda announced recently that she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) the 84-year-old actress rightly stressed that it is largely a very treatable cancer. Her optimism may help her battle one of the most common cancers in the country.

NHL is a type of cancer that begins in the lymph system in white blood cells called lymphocytes. When these cells become abnormal, they don't protect the body from infection or disease. They also grow without control and may form lumps of tissue called tumors.

NHL accounts for about 4% of all cancers, and while it can occur at any age, the risk of developing it increases with age. More than half of NHL patients are 65 or older at the time of diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.

There are multiple types of NHL, and treatment depends on the specific kind, broadly divided between B-cell and T-cell lymphomas. Subtypes of lymphomas are diagnosed through laboratory analysis of blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes which are then used to formulate individualized treatment plans.  

Treatment of NHL is critical to avoid it spreading to other organs or bone marrow. Research is driving progress in treatment and helping develop new and better ways to treat NHL. Current treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplants, monoclonal antibodies and immunotherapy drugs, which harness the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. Specific monoclonal antibodies work to destroy lymphoma cells and have improved treatment outcomes without some of the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.

NorthShore hematology expert David L. Grinblatt, MD, is heading a new program that provides a promising new immunotherapy known as CAR T-cell therapy to NorthShore patients with relapsed lymphoma. Immune cells known as T cells are collected by a process similar to dialysis and then engineered to fight against the lymphoma cells in the patient’s body and given back to the patient, explained Dr. Grinblatt.

The FDA-approved therapy has been shown to be effective and is the best new option for patients with relapsed or refractory lymphoma, added Dr. Grinblatt.

“This is an important move forward for patients whose disease was not responsive to other treatments,” said an optimistic Dr. Grinblatt.


Where does NHL start in the body?

NHL can start almost anywhere in the body. It may start in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or an organ such as the spleen. It can be slow-growing or fast-growing. And it can spread to almost any part of the body.

What causes it?

The cause of NHL is not known. The abnormal cell changes may be triggered by an infection or exposure to something in the environment. There is also a link between NHL and problems with the immune system. Or it may be linked to gene changes (mutations). NHL is not contagious.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of NHL is a painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin. Other symptoms include fever, night sweats, feeling very tired, a cough or shortness of breath, and weight loss you can't explain. Itchy skin or reddened patches of skin can also be symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose NHL, you will get an exam. It includes checking the size of certain lymph nodes. Your doctor will take a piece of body tissue (biopsy) to diagnose NHL. Also, you will likely get blood or lab tests, or have imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI.


For more information about cancer treatments, click this link to learn more about the Kellogg Cancer Center or call 847.570.2112.