A new cancer drug with remarkably few side effects is dramatically improving survival in Hodgkin lymphoma patients who fail other treatments and are nearly out of options. Loyola University Medical Center oncologist Scott E. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., presented survival data for the drug, brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris®), at the 17th Congress of the European Hematology Association. Dr. Smith is director of Loyola's Hematological Malignancies Research Program. The multi-center study included 102 Hodgkin lymphoma patients who had relapsed after stem cell transplants. Tumors disappeared in 32 percent of patients and shrank by at least half in 40 percent of patients. An additional 21 percent of patients experienced some tumor shrinkage. Only 6 percent of patients had no response to the drug. Sixty five percent of patients were alive at 24 months, and in 25 percent of patients, the cancer had not progressed at all. These are "encouraging results in patients with historically poor prognosis," researchers said. Loyola patient Michelle Salerno had failed two stem cell transplants -- one using her own cells and one using cells donated by her brother -- and multiple rounds of chemotherapy before going on brentuximab vedotin. After three or four infusions, she stopped suffering chills, sweats, high fevers and itchy pain from head to toe. And she experienced almost none of the side effects common to chemotherapy. "I kept my hair, and never felt like vomiting," she said. "You get the drug, you go home, you feel good." The standard regimen is a 30-minute infusion every three weeks. A patient typically receives 16 doses over 48 weeks. Loyola has administered about 500 doses to 60 patients. "A lot of our patients are doing great on this regimen," Dr. Smith said. Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system.
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