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Photo by: Rob Young, flickr - CC by-sa 2.0

Oscar-winning actor Jane Fonda shared via Instagram that she has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that involves the white blood cells of the body.

Her specific type of cancer is treatable, and the 84-year-old said she feels very lucky.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not a single type of cancer, according to Dr. Hayder Saeed, a hematologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a set of subtypes of lymphoma that can come from different types of lymphocytes including B cells, T cells or natural killer cells. Both B cells and T cells are part of the body’s immune response to diseases.

According to Saeed, Fonda has reason to be optimistic.

“We have achieved great progress in the management of non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” Saeed said. “The treatment now spans from tolerable chemotherapy to different forms of targeted therapy and, most recently, the FDA-approved cellular therapy.”

Common signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can include swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss and lack of energy.

In her post, Fonda shared that she has begun chemotherapy treatments, but that doesn’t necessarily mean hours in a hospital, according to Saeed.

Saeed said many therapies are now provided in pill form, which a patient can take at home. Side effects are typically minimal in this treatment and continuing physical activity is recommended.

“Most of the patients are surprised at how little treatment effects their daily activity,” Saeed said.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has some of the best overall survival outcomes, Saeed said. However, he points out that there are still some forms of this lymphoma that are challenging to treat. But research is leading to better treatments and increases hope among doctors and patients.

The treatments we offer can put a patient in long-term remission and science is accelerating.
Dr. Hayder Saeed, Malignant Hematology Program

“The treatments we offer can put a 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 incurable lymphomas, we might be thinking about cure in the foreseeable future and that gives hope to patients to continue their fight.”

Despite those advances, Saeed said there are still plenty of misconceptions about non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its treatment. Many patients expect the nausea and vomiting that is associated with some types of treatment, but that is rarely the case with non-Hodgkin treatment, he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, the overall five-year relative survival rate for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 73%, meaning that people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are, on average, about 73% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least five years after being diagnosed. But survival rates can vary widely for different types and stages of lymphoma.

“It can be difficult explaining the significance of stage in non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” Saeed said. “Stage IV is not the same that they hear of in some other solid tumors. We have possible cure rates of up to 60% and more in some subtypes of stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”