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Photo by: Walt Disney Television (Flickr - CC BY-ND 2.0)

Comic Louie Anderson died this week just days after sharing he was undergoing treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

According to Moffitt Cancer Center hematologist Dr. Hayder Saeed, the type of cancer Anderson had is an aggressive form of lymphoma that makes up about 30% of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases.

Details on Anderson’s treatment have not been released, but Saeed said multiagent chemotherapy is most often used with this diagnosis, which also has the most published clinical studies.

“This lymphoma has undergone an explosion of new treatment approaches, including novel chemotherapy agents, targeted therapy, immune and cellular therapies just over the past five years,” Saeed said. “There is a shift in treatment now to improve toxicity and tolerability since the efficacy has been improved significantly.”

While advancements in treatment for this type of lymphoma have come a long way, there is still work to be done. Saeed said the long-term survival and cure for the frontline therapy has been in the 60-70% range. Even those who relapse after frontline therapy have long-term survival in the 50% range, he said, thanks to more novel cellular approaches such as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR T).

The cellular therapy uses a patient’s own immune cells that are reengineered in a lab to better seek out and destroy cancer cells. This single infusion treatment is approved for patients who have relapsed after two or more types of therapy. But studies are underway to determine if CAR T can be given sooner.

Some treatments can put the patient in long-term remission and science is accelerating.
Dr. Hayder Saeed, Malignant Hematology Program

“Some treatments can put the patient in long-term remission and science is accelerating,” Saeed said. “We are seeing some encouraging approvals and success stories for newer therapies. Even for some of the noncurable lymphomas, we might be talking about cure in the foreseeable future and that gives hope to patients to continue their fight.”

The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin, which spreads in an orderly manner through lymph nodes, and non-Hodgkin, which spreads in a nonorderly fashion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Remission is possible for lymphoma thanks to treatment advances. However, there are rare occasions when doctors discover a therapy-resistant strain of the cancer.

“It really depends on the biology of the lymphoma,” Saeed said. “Aggressive lymphomas have a potential for cure. However, long-term follow-up with an oncologist and survivorship clinic is necessary to identify toxicities and late relapse.”

Imaging studies are necessary to determine what therapy is needed. Different stages of lymphoma can involve different chemotherapy regimens, cycles or strategies.

Anderson was a familiar face on TV, including as host of a revival of the game show “Family Feud” from 1999 to 2002, and on comedy specials and in frequent late-night talk show appearances.

More recently, Anderson won a 2016 Emmy for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Christine Baskets, mother to twins played by Zach Galifianakis, in the TV series “Baskets.” Anderson received three consecutive Emmy nods for his performance.