Immunotherapy treatment administered early enough can delay the onset of symptoms for people with lymphoma, according to research.
Those who have follicular lymphoma are typically given treatment only once symptoms appear but if the antibody drug rituximab is prescribed at diagnosis, the time the patient spends symptom-free can be extended.
Researchers at University College Hospital in London compared the so-called watch and wait practice with early treatment of rituximab in 463 people with the condition.
Nine in 10 of those who were given the drug immediately, as well as subsequent regular doses, were found to have no symptoms three years later, the scientists said.
Half of the patients in the other group went this long without displaying symptoms, such as enlarged glands, weight loss or tumour growth.
Trial leader Kirit Ardeshna said: “These early trial results are encouraging and increase the options available to lymphoma patients. It is likely this new combination will be adopted as a means of delaying the need for chemotherapy in this group of patients.”
The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Haematology in Florida.
Kate Law, from the charity Cancer Research UK, which part-funded the research, said: “Chemotherapy can often successfully stop lymphoma from progressing for many years but if the cancer recurs or continues to grow then further chemotherapy may not work as well.
“So being able to delay the need for chemotherapy for as long as possible is an important step forward in managing this generally incurable disease.”