New Hope for Lymphoma Cases

A new treatment with the help of a new drug is offering a glimmer of hope to patients whose cancer of the lymph nodes keeps coming back.

Known as radio-immunotherapy, the treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital has helped a 52-year-old to get back on his feet and return to work. The hospital is now helping another man.

Both men, who are Malaysians, were in the advanced stages of the disease and were not responding to conventional treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

But the treatment - currently administered intravenously in the form of a new drug known as Zevalin - is expensive, costing about $40,000. Also, it is likely to be effective in only about 50 to 100 of the 1,100 or so patients with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in Singapore.

That is because it works only on those with the B-cell variety of the disease.

Also, the surface of the malignant cells must have the CD-20 protein, which helps guide the drug to treat only the cells with cancer.

As a result, it has greater precision than chemotherapy and radiation, which can kill even healthy cells in the vicinity of the cancer, causing such side effects as hair loss and nausea. These side effects are greatly reduced in the new treatment.

'The treatment is likely to succeed where conventional modes have failed because unlike in chemotherapy and radiation, which blindly carpet bomb' the area in the vicinity of the cancer cells, radio-immunotherapy is more precise, said hematologist Ting Wen Chang of Mount Elizabeth, who treated the 52-year-old. The man, a Chinese, is the first in Asia to receive the treatment, the hospital said.

He had three relapses despite chemotherapy, radiation and even a stem cell transplant, said Dr Ting.

Since radio-immunotherapy using Zevalin is not yet available in any other country in the region, it could attract many foreign patients to Singapore, said Dr Patrick Tan, head of Mount Elizabeth's Haematology Centre.

Zevalin, being fairly new, is not commercially available in Singapore, as it is still in the process of being registered here.

Doctors must make a specific request to the Health Sciences Authority to bring in the drug, if they find a patient is suitable to be treated with it.

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