How a lymphoma clinic can lead to more accurate, specialized care
September 19, 2018
Lymphoma is one the most common cancers in the United States. Between the Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s forms of the disease alone, it is predicted to affect a combined 83,180 people in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society. To provide the advanced care these patients need, we have created a specialized lymphoma clinic at UT Southwestern where we implement a team approach to lymphoma diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.
At our lymphoma clinic, every patient’s case is reviewed in a multi-disciplinary setting. Expert pathologists, radiation oncologists, and medical hematologist-oncologists convene together to discuss every case. This approach helps us come up with an appropriate diagnosis and determine a patient-specific treatment plan, suited to their individual needs
How patients benefit from a team approach to lymphoma care
Patients benefit from accurate testing at our clinic, which is crucial because lymphoma can easily be misdiagnosed, which impedes care. For example, we saw a patient who was told at another center that he had three months to live. The patient visited us for a second opinion, and the first thing we did was a biopsy to verify the patient actually had lymphoma. Upon listening to the patient’s symptoms and examining the biopsy results, we determined the patient’s blood changes were due to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) not because of a lymphoma. These conditions may have similar symptoms, such as an elevated blood marker.
We couldn’t have treated this patient so efficiently without a team approach. To imagine a team approach in action, picture a pathologist making an initial diagnosis by examining laboratory samples of body tissue under a microscope and then passing off the diagnosis to an oncologist who will listen to the patient’s history of the disease. This is important because some diseases can have indicators or symptoms that mimic other conditions. Similarly, patients can benefit from a team approach because they receive a full view of their condition, including their personal experiences and current treatments combined with what their scans show, and their potential future risks.
At our clinic, patients with lymphoma have access to doctors who specialize in the specific types of the disease. For example, I, along with my colleague, Praveen Ramakrishnan, M.D., treat all types, including rare skin lymphoma. Meanwhile, other specialists at our clinic treat acute leukemia and multiple myeloma, which are conditions different from lymphoma. Specializing in particular diseases allows us to stay on top of the latest advances for each condition, helping us treat patients in the most effective way possible.
Because our clinic is part of an academic medical center, our patients benefit from our lymphoma board, which is a group of specialists that meets weekly to discuss our patients’ needs. We ensure we are on the same page regarding each patient’s progress and the expected treatments and outcomes to provide expert insights and continually improve the care we provide.
"At our lymphoma clinic, every patient’s case is reviewed in a multi-disciplinary setting. Expert pathologists, radiation oncologists, and medical hematologist-oncologists convene together to discuss every case. This approach helps us come up with an appropriate diagnosis and determine a patient-specific treatment plan, suited to their individual needs."
Expert care at UT Southwestern
Lymphoma treatment options can vary greatly, but we take pride in being experts in each type. We provide first-line treatment such as medications, and we specialize in transplants as well. For example, we perform autologous transplants in which we collect patients’ blood-forming stem cells, use chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells, and return the clean stem cells to the patient’s bloodstream. This process allows the bone marrow to produce new, healthy blood cells and allows us to use a higher dose of chemotherapy to destroy the lymphoma cells.
Patients also can receive immunotherapy in our lymphoma clinic. This treatment alters a patient's T-cells, a type of immune cells, to recognize cancer cells as foreign invaders and destroy them, like how the body fights off infections and viruses. Furthermore, we are one of 17 sites in the world participating in a clinical study to treat multiple myeloma in this same way. We are the only cancer center in North Texas designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which allows our patients access to a sizable clinical trial portfolio and the latest treatment techniques for lymphoma and related conditions.