A reader named Ilia posted a comment yesterday about a possible treatment for Follicular Lymphoma:
I would like to get your opinion on something more exciting than
watching and waiting - how about a complete remission of FL following
anti- viral therapy for Hepatitis C. It was published in New England
Journal of Medicine in October and would not drawn my special attention
except one of the authors is Adreshna.
I hadn't heard of this article, so I thought it was worth looking into, and writing about.
But this is also a good time to remind everyone of something. When I'm asked for my opinion on something related to Follicular Lymphoma, I think it's important to remind everyone that I am not an oncologist, or a medical doctor of any kind. I'm not a biologist, or scientist, or researcher. I like to call myself a Cancer Nerd. I'm someone who has an interest in cancer, especially Follicular Lymphoma, and I have enough of a background in science to be able to understand medical journal articles and comment on them. So my opinion is only worth so much. If I'm "giving my two cents," as the saying goes, there are plenty of experts whose opinion on FL is worth two dollars, or pounds, or euros, or whatever.
So as long as we're straight on that, let's get to Ilia's comment.
The piece did indeed appear in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine last October. It's called "Remission of Follicular Lymphoma after Treatment for Hepatitis C Virus Infection."
But there's an important distinction between this study and many others that appear in medical journals. Most of the articles that I comment on are peer-reviewed studies. That means they report on clinical trials or other research, and before it gets published in the journal, it is approved by some other experts in the field. They make sure that the trial was set up properly, and the results and conclusions are really what the authors say they are. Peer-reviewed articles are the gold standard -- you can trust what they say.
On the other hand, the article on Hepatitis C treatments is labeled "Correspondence" -- a letter to the editors. Most of the time, correspondence is a comment on an article that the journal published, though sometimes the letter might describe an interesting medical situation. It's a way of getting other doctors or researchers interested in exploring the subject further.
In this particular letter, the authors are doing just that -- just describing an interesting situation. As the title implies, the interesting situation is that a patient who had both Follicular Lymphoma and Hepatitis C. The patient was given treatment for the Hepatitis, and it put the Lymphoma into remission.
The important thing about this (and maybe why there wasn't a bigger deal made of it) is that the letter describes ONE patient. Clinical trials that result in a treatment being approved will often involve hundred of patients. That's the only way to make sure that the treatment will work on a large number of patients. ONE patient won't prove anything -- but it might get enough people interested to explore it more.
And that's just what happened here. There is a clinical trial in the U.S. that is looking into the Hepatitis C treatments Sofosbuvir and Ribavirin, and whether or not they will help with Follicular Lymphoma and other indolent lymphomas. The two treatments are anti-viral agents -- in different ways, they mess with the viruses that cause Hepatitis C. Ribavirin, for example, messes with RNA , which is necessary for DNA to copy itself, and thus for a virus to copy itself. I don't know the exact way that it works with lymphoma, but it makes sense that it messes with cancer cells trying to copy themselves.
So that's where we are with this potential treatment. It's an early trial -- only 21 patients are being recruited, and it will be at least a year before any results are in.
So Ilia, here's my opinion -- it looks promising enough for a trial. Not all trials are successful -- if they were, we'd have a whole lot more treatments than we do.
But that doesn't mean I'm not hopeful about it.
Thanks for making me aware of. I'll be sure to keep an eye on possible results when they come in.