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New treatments offer more options for people diagnosed with blood cancer
There’s encouraging news for people who have been diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. A range of new treatment breakthroughs and new approaches to using existing treatments is increasing the survivability rates for these types of cancers. National Cancer Institute statistics on five-year survival have increased to 66.7% for leukemia, 88.9% for Hodgkin lymphoma, 74.3% for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and 59.8% for myeloma.
What treatment options are available depend on what type of blood cancer you’ve been diagnosed with. In addition, not all medical centers offer all types of treatments. Getting a second opinion can help you make sure you’ve explored all appropriate treatments.
First line treatments for most types of blood cancer include chemotherapy, targeted immunotherapies (drugs that target the changes in cancer cells that help them grow and spread), and monoclonal antibodies (man-made versions of antibodies that attach to a target on cancer cells and destroy those cells). Some people also undergo radiation therapy.
What new treatments are available?
Some of the newer approaches to treatment that are used if the cancer does not respond well to the initial treatment or returns after treatment include:
- Stem cell transplantation: Stem cell transplantation replaces damaged stem cells with healthy ones. There are two types of stem cell transplantation used to treat blood cancers. In autologous stem cell transplantation, the patient’s own stem cells are gathered from their blood and processed. The patient then undergoes intensive chemotherapy. After chemotherapy, the processed stem cells are re-infused into the patient’s bloodstream. The other type is allogeneic stem cell transplantation. For this treatment, donated stem cells from a family member or an unrelated donor are used for the transplant.
- CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy: The patients’ own T-cells, which are white blood cells that destroy foreign cells in the bloodstream, are used in this immunotherapy treatment. T-cells are collected from the patient’s blood using apheresis (technology that separates blood into its four components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma). The cells are then modified in a lab so they attack cancer cells, multiplied, then infused into the patient’s bloodstream, where they remain active for years, working to prevent the return of the cancer.
- Bispecific antibodies: The FDA has approved four bispecific antibody treatments for blood cancer—teclistamab, elranatamab, and talquetamab-tgvs for multiple myeloma and mosunetuzumab for follicular lymphoma. These treatments work by attaching to both the surface of cancer cells and T-cells, bringing them together and allowing the T-cells to kill the cancer cells. Several other bispecific antibody treatments for other types of blood cancers are in clinical trials or awaiting FDA approval.
- Menin inhibitors: These drugs, which are still in the clinical trial stage, are a targeted treatment for several forms of acute myeloid leukemia. An early phase clinical trial found that approximately one-third of participants were in complete remission after treatment. Most patients in the trial had leukemia caused by a mutation in the NPM1 gene or an MLL rearrangement, a chromosome abnormality where one piece of a chromosome breaks off and attaches to another chromosome. These changes use menin, a type of protein, to fuel cancer growth. By blocking the menin, the drug in this trial, revumenib, transforms leukemia cells back into normal blood cells.
If you’ve been diagnosed with blood cancer, a health advisor or health navigator can connect you with specialists who have expertise in treating your specific cancer and have access to and experience with the latest, most effective treatments.