Renowned for its expertise in cancer pathologiesIn particular, Lyon is home to an institute entirely dedicated to research on lymphomas. The Lyzarc, located in the heart of the CHU Lyon-Sud, is the largest European academic structure for research operations on this pathology. On the occasion of World Lymphoma Day, its medical director, the hematologist Florence Broussais-Guillaumot, lifts the veil on this cancer which affects 18,000 French people each year.
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is cancer that originates in the lymphatic system. Often it is manifested by an increase in the size of the nodes. The lymphatic system is a systemic organ, that is to say that it is present throughout the body like the nervous or blood system. It is made up, among other things, of lymphocytes (in other words white blood cells) which are the protectors of the body. Their role is to defend the body against external aggressions such as viruses or environmental agents (pollens). But also against the autoreactive cells (kind of “mutant” cells) of our body. In other words those which are led to degenerate and attack the body itself. It is these cells with altered genetic code that cause cancer.
In addition, lymphoma can also manifest itself by attacking a particular organ, without the lymph nodes being affected. This is called lymphoma of the breast, brain, pancreas or any other organ.
What are the different types of lymphoma?
There are about fifty different lymphomas. This high figure is due to 2 factors:
- First of all, there are two main families of lymphocytes: B lymphocytes (formed in the bones) and T lymphocytes (which mature in the thymus).
- Then there are different stages of lymphocyte maturation: like any other cell, they grow to reach different “ages”.
The acquisition of its functions by a lymphocyte is called maturation. However, each stage of lymphocyte maturation can be blocked and lead to a different lymphoma. This explains why we speak of “lymphomas”.
Lymphomas: the most common blood cancer
Does it affect a fraction of the population in particular?
18,000 new cases of lymphoma are diagnosed in France each year and 110,000 in Europe. It is also the most common cancer of the blood.
This disease is most often characterized by an exhaustion of the lymphatic system. Therefore, this disease most often involves the elderly (over 65 years) who have been exposed for a long time to an environment that calls on this immune system. This type of cancer also affects men a little more than women and relatively little children.
What are the symptoms that should be consulted?
Symptoms can range from a small patch of less than 1 centimeter on the skin (for which intervention is not necessary) to an extremely serious infection in which you will have a fever, where you lose a lot of weight or have can die in a few weeks …
There are two main types of lymphoma:
- Indolent lymphoma: it will grow very slowly over time and people will stay alive for quite a long time without necessarily realizing that they are sick.
- Aggressive lymphoma: lymphomas multiply very quickly. It is fatal very quickly if left untreated.
Effective treatments for lymphoma
How is this pathology cured?
Aggressive lymphoma – which is the most worrying – heals fairly quickly (around 6 months) with appropriate treatment. The most common treatment is immunochemotherapy.
60% of people will be cured by this immunochemotherapy alone. Surgery is only used to make the diagnosis during a tumor biopsy. There are some indications for radiotherapy but very limited. If this solution does not work, other treatments such as immunotherapy are considered. This technique has evolved since the 2000s and today there are 2 types of immunotherapy:
- Immunotherapy with monoclonal antibodies directly directed at a target expressed by the lymphocyte responsible for the lymphoma (anti CD20 for example).
- CAR-T cell-based immunotherapy which consists of using the patient’s healthy lymphocytes and multiplying them before reinjecting them into the patient. It will thus be better equipped to defend itself against lymphoma.
Founded in Lyon, LYSARC brings together all the professions allowing the implementation of clinical studies on lymphoma. It differs from LYSA, which is an independent clinical research network on lymphoma. This organization conducts clinical studies, from the first administration of new treatments to humans until the establishment of reference therapeutic strategies. It also differs from the Carnot CALYM institute, a consortium of research entities committed to accelerating innovation and its transfer in the field of lymphoma.
In order to better understand this complex tree structure, LYSARC and the Institut Carnot CALYM are launching a new website aimed at providing better information on lymphoma.