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From today, patients in the UK with the immune system cancer follicular lymphoma (FL), who require first-line treatment, no longer have to watch and wait for their condition to relapse to qualify for a new treatment that can extend their remission.
For the first time, doctors can actively keep the cancer at bay with the extended use of the targeted antibody treatment MabThera® (rituximab), known as ‘maintenance therapy’, following a response to initial induction treatment.
This approach has two main benefits compared to the current practice of waiting for symptoms to reappear:
1) Halves the risk of the cancer returning at two years.
2) Reduces the likelihood of further chemotherapy – and its unpleasant side effects – without significantly impacting patients’ quality of life for a period of two years.
About rituximab maintenance therapy
Maintenance therapy is treatment that is given on an ongoing basis to help keep cancer from coming back after it has responded to initial therapy. It may include treatment with drugs, vaccines, or antibodies that kill cancer cells, and it may be given for a long time. In the case of the news this week, patients receive rituximab on its own as ‘maintenance therapy’, which is like a booster every two months for two years following rituximab plus chemotherapy once a month for 6 or 8 cycles of ‘induction therapy’.
The distinct nature of follicular lymphoma
FL is one of the most common forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)iv, and is estimated to affect over 15,000 people in the UK.
FL can occur any time during adulthood, the average age being in the 60s. The incidence is similar in men and women.
Most patients with FL will have advanced disease before symptoms even develop. This means that 80 to 85% of patients will have advanced disease when diagnosed.
FL is not yet curable, so relapse is inevitable, therefore a key goal of treatment (apart from keeping patients symptom free) is to keep the cancer at bay for as long as possible.
Despite its slow-growing nature, in 30 per cent of cases FL may morph into a more aggressive high grade type lymphoma and can result in early death.
FL is a life-threatening disease so optimal treatment is essential.