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Ethan Zohn's cancer returns: What is Hodgkin's lymphoma?

November 03, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Ethan Zohn recently announced his Hodgkin's lymphoma has returned. The "Survivor" winner still plans to run the New York City Marathon.
Ethan Zohn recently announced his Hodgkin's lymphoma has returned.… (Evan Agostini / Associated…)

"Survivor" winner Ethan Zohn announced his Hodgkin's lymphoma has returned; the 37-year-old philanthropist and motivational speaker told People magazine that after 20 months of remission the disease had returned and localized in his chest.

"I have taken all the fear instilled by this disease & transformed it into something fear itself should be afraid of," he tweeted yesterday.

Zohn was diagnosed with the disease in 2008, then went into remission. This time, Zohn told People, he's treating the disease with the drug SGN-35, and could have another stem cell transplant, perhaps from one of his brothers.

Hodgkin's lymphoma (also called Hodgkin disease) is cancer of the lymphatic, or immune, system. Symptoms include unexplained weight loss and itching, fever and chills, night sweats, appetite loss and swelling of the lymph nodes. There are various types of Hodgkin's lymphoma; the exact cause is not known. People whose immune systems are already compromised (via HIV or an organ transplant, for example) may be at higher risk.

The drug SGN-35, approved by the FDAin August, also goes by the brand name Adcentris and the generic name brentuximab vedotinan (it was also approved to treat anaplastic large-cell lymphoma). The medication is designed to stop the growth of tumors and is given to patients who have relapsed. In a 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study, tumor regression was seen in 36 of 42 patients who received the drug, and side effects were mild to moderate and included nausea, fatigue and diarrhea.

Stem cell transplants are another way to treat the disease after a recurrence, and the cells can come from the patient's body or from a donor. Stem cells are transplanted after chemotherapy so the body can start producing healthy new blood cells.

Survival rates vary depending on the cancer's stage; the American Cancer Society lists five-year relative survival rates for people with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma at 65%, and rates for people with Stage 1 at 90%. The ACS notes that the figures are based on people who were first treated for the disease years ago and don't reflect changes in treatments that may affect those rates.

Despite this distressing news, Zohn still plans to run the ING New York City Marathon Nov. 6 to raise money for his charitable organization Grassroot Soccer, which educates young African people about HIV.

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