Survivor: Africa winner Ethan Zohn was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in April 2009. Since that time, Ethan has been reporting his progress throughout his therapy in a video diary for People magazine. This summer, he had finished chemo and was feeling pretty good. However, at the end of August, Zohn heard the news no cancer patient wants to hear: the cancer was back. Although the original tumor had shrunk, “There was re-growth- two little nodules in a different location … It’s quite rare that not only is there re-growth,but that there’s re-growth so quickly. I was obviously resistant to the first form of chemotherapy,” reports Zohn. Zohn is trying to remain upbeat. In a People magazine interview Zohn says: “Whatever things are thrown at you, you’ve got to battle through with a smile on your face,” he says, “and the important people in your life around you.”
Now Zohn is undergoing a new treatment regimen called risk-adapted high dose chemoradiotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation for patients with relapsed and primary Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What are blood stem cells?
Blood stem cells are special cells in the bone marrow that can develop into any of the three kinds of blood cells- red blood cells (that carry oxygen), platelets (that aid in blood clotting), and white blood cells (the blood component of the immune system).
Source: National Cancer Institute
What is risk-adapted high dose chemoradiotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation?
A patient who is resistant or has recurrent Hodgkin’s Lymphoma will receive a high doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to wipe out all cancer cells. During the process, the patient receives drugs to increase the production of stem cells and these cells are collected in a procedure called apheresis which are frozen for later use.
The chemoradiotherapy continues until the bone marrow is completely empty of blood and stem cells. The patient is then moved into the hospital for an extended period of time during which s/he receives an autologous stem cell transplant. It is called autologous because the stem cells are the patient’s own previously frozen cells. (In an allogeneic transplant, the stem cells come from a closely matched donor.) The patient is closely observed for signs of infection and bleeding until the new stem cells start replenishing the bone marrow with blood cells.
We wish Ethan the best of luck with his new course of therapy.