Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells (including leukaemia and lymphoma). There are over 50 different chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy drugs can stop cancer cells dividing and reproducing themselves. Some are given on their own, but often several drugs are given together (combination chemotherapy). Chemotherapy may also be used with other types of treatment such as surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapies, or a combination of these.
The type of chemotherapy treatment given depends on:
The type of haematological malignancy you have
The stage of disease
Your age and physical fitness
Radiotherapy uses high energy X-rays and similar rays (such as electrons) to treat disease.
Some patients with haematological malignancies (usually lymphoma and myeloma) will have radiotherapy as part of their treatment. This is given from outside the body using X-rays.
Monoclonal antibody therapy
A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-produced molecule that is engineered to attach to specific defects in cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies mimic the antibodies the body naturally produces as part of our immune system’s response to germs, vaccines etc.
The most commonly used monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of haematological malignancy is Rituximab (Mabthera) an antiCD20 antibody which binds to a specific protein CD20 only found on the surface of B lymphocytes. Certain types of lymphoma arise from these B cells. When Rituximab attached to the CD20 on the B lymphocytes it makes the cells more visible to the immune system, which can then attack. Rituximab lowers the number of B cells including healthy B cells, but the body produces new healthy B cells to replace these.
Deliver radiation to cancer cells
By combining a radioactive particle to a monoclonal antibody, radiation can be delivered directly to the cancer cells. This way, most of the surrounding healthy cells will not be damaged. Radiation-linked monoclonal antibodies deliver a lower level of radiation over a longer period of time.
Ibritumomab (Zevalin) is a monoclonal antibody combined with radioactive particles, and is a treatment option for some patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
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