New drugs improve survival times for patients with rare blood cancer

Survival times for a highly aggressive type of blood cancer have nearly doubled over the last decade due to the introduction of new targeted drugs, researchers have found.

Researchers at the University of York, in collaboration with NHS clinicians, followed the treatment of 335 people with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) in hospitals across Yorkshire and Humberside between 2004 and 2015. Survival times for newly diagnosed patients increased from two years to three and a half years over the period.

MCL is diagnosed in around 500 people each year in the UK. Although rare, MCL is an aggressive lymphoma that often needs to be treated immediately. It is typically a cancer of older people, who cannot tolerate aggressive treatment, which typically results in them receiving a milder form of chemotherapy.

The study confirmed that improvements in survival times followed the addition of rituximab, an antibody drug that uses the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Monitoring impact

Russell Patmore, Honorary Visiting Professor at the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “While the outlook for people with mantle cell lymphoma is still relatively poor compared to other types of lymphoma, our study has shown that the introduction of new therapies has improved survival times.

“We have shown the importance of monitoring the impact of treatment changes to see if they are making a difference, especially in rarer forms of cancer where it is difficult to conduct large-scale clinical trials.”

Almost all patients with MCL relapse and require further treatment. Until recently, there were few treatment options available other than further intensive chemotherapy, which was often not effective, with severe side effects.

Significant improvement

Researchers found that the introduction of new treatments, including the chemotherapy drug bendamustine, as well as the targeted, non-chemotherapy drug ibrutinib, has significantly improved the survival of people who relapsed after previous chemotherapy.

Ibrutinib works by targeting and switching off a protein linked to the growth and movement of mantle cell lymphoma cancer cells. Bendamustine works by interfering with DNA in cancer cells, preventing them from multiplying.

Survival times increased from eight months in patients who relapsed in the years 2004-11 to 17 months in those who relapsed in 2012-15. The number of patients over 70 years old who survive for a year or more after relapse has nearly doubled since 2004 – suggesting that the introduction of new targeted drugs are benefitting older patients who are unable to undergo intensive treatment.


University of York 


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