- Following a period of chemotherapy, Jane Fonda says her cancer is in remission
- Fonda announced her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis earlier this year
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of blood cancer
- Experts say it’s typically considered a treatable form of cancer, and the outlook is generally positive.
Oscar-winning actress and climate activist Jane Fonda has announced that she is in remission from cancer.
In a blog post on her website, the 85-year-old explained, “Last week, I was told by my oncologist that my cancer is in remission, and I can discontinue chemo.
“I am feeling so blessed, so fortunate. I thank all of you who prayed and sent good thoughts my way. I am confident that it played a role in the good news.”
Fonda revealed she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in an Instagram post back in September this year and explained that she was undergoing six months of chemotherapy.
When celebrities like Jane Fonda share positive news about their cancer, it can provide comfort to others living with the disease.
“Positive news stories like these can bring hope to some people fighting cancer and may encourage others to continue to battle this challenging disease,” says GP and founder of Dr.Derme Skin and Aesthetics Clinics Dr. Thuva Amuthalingam.
It can raise awareness as well.
“Stories like these can encourage people to get help if they are concerned about symptoms or worried that they may have symptoms of cancer or a serious health condition,” points out Dr. Hana Patel, a GP specializing in women’s health. “It also makes people aware that some cancers can come and go and be present for a long time, meaning that regular checks are important due to recurrence.”
What is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the body’s immune and lymphatic systems.
“Your lymphatic system carries lymph, a clear fluid, through vessels in your body. It is a part of your immune system as it carries white blood cells which fight infection,” explains Amuthalingam. “In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, some of these cells multiply and collect in an abnormal way. The affected cells lose their ability to fight infection, leaving you vulnerable to infections.”
One of the most common symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a painless swollen lymph node, which typically occurs in the neck, armpits, or groin.
Other symptoms include:
- unexplained weight loss
- night sweats
In the United States, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a common form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it accounts for 4% of all cancer cases.
The organization estimates that approximately 80,500 adults and children will receive a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis in 2022. It can affect people of all ages but is most commonly seen in the over 60s.
While non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is an umbrella term for many different forms of cancer, Patel says there are two main types of the disease: high-grade and low-grade.
“High-grade or aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is where the cancer develops quickly and aggressively,” she explains. “Low-grade or indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is where the cancer develops slowly, and you may not experience any symptoms for many years.”
The only way to confirm a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is by carrying out a biopsy.
“This is a minor surgical procedure where a sample of affected lymph node tissue is removed and studied in a laboratory,” Patel explains.
What is the outlook for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after diagnosis?
The outlook for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma varies greatly according to the grade and extent of the lymphoma, as well as the person’s age.
“Low-grade tumors don’t necessarily require immediate medical treatment, but are harder to completely cure,” explains Patel. “High-grade lymphomas, on the other hand, need to be treated straight away, but tend to respond much better to treatment and can often be cured.”
Common treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:
- monoclonal antibody therapy
- radiotherapy (in some cases)
Treatment will depend on the exact sub-type and the grade.
“A patient will have all their reports discussed at a multi-disciplinary meeting of specialists before the best course of treatment is agreed upon,” explains Amuthalingam.
Overall, he says it’s considered a treatable condition in most cases and cites research from Cancer Research UK, which found that of those with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in England, 80% survive one year after they are diagnosed, and 65% survive for five years or more after the diagnosis.
Remission rates are similar in the US.
According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year relative overall survival rate for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), the most common form of aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is 73%.
How to reduce your risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Of course, prevention is always better than treatment, so what can you do to lower your risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
While Amuthalingam says that we don’t yet know the trigger that causes the mutation leading to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he says, there are several medical conditions that have been linked with an increased risk of developing the disease.
These include HIV, Coeliac disease, and Helicobacter pylori infection, which impair the immune system.
If you’re living with a condition that impairs your immune function, Amuthalingam says it’s essential that you attend regular checkups and work with your doctors to keep the condition under control.
Patel notes that most people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have no risk factors that can be changed. It’s often the result of genetics.
However, she says limiting your risk of certain infections and doing what you can to maintain a healthy immune system can be beneficial.
Some habits that can improve your immune function include:
- managing chronic stress
- eating foods rich in vitamins B and C
- ensuring you’re up-to-date on vaccinations
Healthy living may also reduce your risk of ill health, so it’s important not to neglect the basics, like exercise, nutrition, and good quality sleep.
“Some studies have suggested that being overweight or obese may increase your risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” says Patel.
“Staying at a healthy weight, keeping physically active, and following a healthy eating pattern that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and that limits or avoids red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods may help protect against lymphoma, but more research is needed to confirm this,” she explains.
Fortunately, the outlook for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is good. Many people respond well to treatment and, like Jane Fonda, are able to enter remission after their diagnosis.
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