Advanced radiotherapy shows early promise for rare lymphoma

In collaboration with the Press Association

A small US study has found that an advanced radiotherapy technique already used in some cancers is also effective for treating a rare cancer called extranodal lymphoma of the head and neck.

The early-stage research was presented at the Pan Pacific Lymphoma Conference by scientists from the Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Lymphoma is a cancer of cells of the immune system, including the lymph nodes. Extranodal lymphomas appear in parts of the body that aren't directly part of the immune system, such as the tongue and tonsils.

Fox Chase radiotherapy specialist Aruna Taruka commented that intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is already sometimes used to treat head and neck cancer, but had never been investigated specifically for the treatment of extranodal lymphomas.

IMRT uses a computer to deliver more accurate radiation doses so that the beam conforms to the three-dimensional shape of the tumour and leaves much of the surrounding healthy tissue alone. This means patients experience fewer side effects than with conventional radiotherapy. In cancers of the head and neck, conventional radiotherapy can damage the salivary glands and patients can develop dry mouth as a result, leading to problems with eating, speaking and swallowing.

However, IMRT is not suitable for all cancers. To test its suitability for the treatment of extranodal lymphomas of the head and neck, the researchers treated five patients with tumours that had not yet spread to other parts of the body. Four of these patients also received chemotherapy. The radiotherapy treatment helped control tumours and was not associated with major side effects.

Ms Taruka said: "IMRT is a promising technique that should be used to treat extranodal lymphoma, in addition to chemotherapy. Radiation acts as a form of local treatment that prevents loco-regional relapses, and chemotherapy helps to prevent systemic relapses."

Oliver Childs, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK said, "Radiotherapy helps cure more people than cancer drugs, so it is good to see research into advanced ways of delivering this life-saving treatment.

"However, this work represents only the first step to assessing whether IMRT is suitable for this particular type of cancer. This study was only in a very small group of people, and IMRT was not compared directly with conventional radiotherapy. It will be interesting to see if further larger studies mirror these early results."

Copyright Press Association 2011

References

  • IMRT improves outcomes in patients with extranodal lymphoma of the head and neck (Press Release)