Small lymphocytic lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that is usually found in the lymph nodes. In general it is a slow growing, yet persistent, type of cancer.
Stage I small lymphocytic lymphoma affects one lymph node group while more advanced stages can affect several lymph node areas, along with organs such as the liver and spread to bone marrow.
How does it work?
As with most cancers, treatment for small lymphocytic lymphoma works best when the cancer is diagnosed early. Initial response to chemotherapy is generally good, but unfortunately there is a high rate of recurrence. In more advanced stages of small lymphocytic lymphoma it becomes incurable and treatment is a means of managing the symptoms. If the cancer is not causing symptoms doctors may take a “watch and wait” approach before beginning any treatment.
Symptoms can include enlarged lymph nodes, low blood counts, diminished organ function, or an increase in infections due to the immune system being compromised. Once these symptoms become problematic then treatment aims to manage them.
The focus of small lymphocytic lymphoma treatment is to stop the progression of the disease if it is in the early stages, and to manage the symptoms in late stage patients. Over time small lymphocytic lymphoma can develop into Richter’s syndrome. While this can take 10 years, prognosis after this is not good with patients only expected to live 1-2 years.
Types of treatment for small lymphocytic lymphoma include chemotherapy medications, Rituximab, and radioimmunotherapy. Usually combinations of chemotherapy drugs are used to try to kill the cancer cells. Rituximab is a drug that has shown promise in helping small lymphocytic lymphoma patients survive longer than with other medications alone. It kills B-cell lymphomas and works extremely well in combination with chemotherapy medications. Radioimmunotherapy is a treatment where a radioactive substance is administered to all lymphoma masses in the body.
Patients being treated for small lymphocytic lymphoma with chemotherapy medications can expect to experience nausea, fatigue and possible hair loss. Radioimmunotherapy has similar side effects and can also lower a patient’s blood count. The specific side effects experienced depend on many factors such as the combination of treatments being received, the stage of the person’s lymphoma and their general health before treatment begins.