Understanding Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Dexter actor Michael C. Hall, 50, is a blood cancer survivor; the new limited series of Dexter premieres November 7, 2021.
- Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010, after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Early symptoms of lymphoma can be tricky to notice as they may include swollen lymph nodes, fatigue or unexplained weight loss.
- According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, follow-up visits are usually scheduled every 3 to 4 months for the first 1 to 2 years after treatment is completed for Hodgkin lymphoma, then visits may only be 2 to 3 times per year until 5 years have passed. After 4 to 5 years, patients should discuss options for long-term surveillance.
Hall dedicated about eight years of his life to becoming the strangely lovable serial killer, and now he’s back to give us more with Dexter: New Blood after the show originally ran from 2006 to 2013. The new series premieres on November 7, and Hall recently gave fans an eerie interview with Showtime that explained what it’s been like to return to his character.Read More
“It’s a crazy proposition, returning to a character after almost a decade,” he said. “It’s like discovering that this person that you thought you’d put away – he’s been there all along off somewhere having his dream, and you just turn the cameras back on.”
He added that getting back to the “cultivated affability” of the serial killer had been easier than he expected.
“He’s someone who has a really formidable dark side,” Hall said. “It was really pretty easy to give over to that.”
Hall’s Cancer Battle
Michael C. Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, in 2010. The 2010 Golden Globe winner had initial symptoms that mimicked that of the flu prior to his diagnosis, which is common for people with lymphoma. Some early signs of lymphoma can be fatigue, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, and fever.
Hall underwent chemotherapy to treat his lymphoma, but other common treatment regimens can include medication, radiation therapy, and stem-cell transplant.
“Along with the diagnosis came the assurance that my prognosis was really good if I just decided on a course of treatment and just did it,” Hall told The Daily Beast about his lymphoma treatment path. “I was never in a 50/50 life or death proposition. It was scary, but I wasn’t really frightened. I was more just interested in finding out the answers to questions surrounding what I needed to do and eager to do them in terms of treatment.”
Understanding Hodgkin Lymphoma
Lymphoma, in general, is a cancer of the immune system that begins in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphoma begins when lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation that makes them multiply much faster than normal. This mutation also forces older cells that would normally die to stay alive. From there, the quickly multiplying lymphocytes collect and build up in your lymph nodes, the small glands in your neck, armpits, and other parts of your body.
There are more than 40 different types of the disease, but Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the main two sub-categories with the latter being more common. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, about 90,390 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with lymphoma in 2021 – 8,830 cases of Hodgkin lymphoma and 81,560 cases of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The type of white blood cells linked to the disease determines the distinction. If doctors are unable to detect the Reed-Sternberg cell – a giant cell derived from B lymphocytes – then it is categorized as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In a previous interview, Dr. Elise Chong, a medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, explained that Hodgkin lymphoma was most often seen in younger adults. And although less common, it is generally easier to cure than non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Dr. Chong also said lymphoma symptoms can be difficult to detect, like Michael C. Hall’s were.
“The symptoms of lymphoma, especially if you have a low-grade lymphoma, often are no symptoms,” Dr. Chong explained. “People say, but I feel completely fine, and that’s very normal.”
Lymphoma treatment, in general, depends greatly on the nature of your specific diagnosis. For non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients, their cancer is more likely to spread in a random fashion and be found in different groups of lymph nodes in the body. Hodgkin lymphoma cancers, on the other hand, are more likely to grow in a uniform way from one group of lymph nodes directly to another. Some lymphomas, called indolent lymphomas, might not even need to be treated right away because they’re slow-growing. In this case, careful monitoring – including imaging scans such as PET/CT – is used to track the progress of your cancer and gauge whether it needs treatment yet.
“Where I use PET/CT in my practice quite a bit is if I’m observing a patient … and there is some new symptom or situation which makes me concerned that the patient may be changing from an indolent lymphoma to a more aggressive lymphoma,” Dr. Jakub Svoboda, medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet. “We refer to it as transformation.”
Monitoring Hodgkin Lymphoma
Michael C. Hall is cancer-free and, clearly, doing well. But once you’re done with treatment, does that mean cancer-related care is finished? The American Society of Clinical Oncology says no.
“Care for people diagnosed with lymphoma does not end when active treatment has finished,” says The American Society of Clinical Oncologists. “Your health care team will continue to check that the cancer has not come back, manage any side effects and late effects of treatment, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.”
Follow-up care generally means talking with your doctor, doing a physical examination, having blood tests done, and sometimes even doing scans.
“At most cancer centers, follow-up visits are scheduled every 3 to 4 months for the first 1 to 2 years after treatment is completed, which is when the risk of recurrence is highest,” the ASCO website states. “After that, the time between visits increases over time. Later visits may only be 2 to 3 times per year until 5 years have passed. After 4 to 5 years, patients should discuss options for long-term surveillance with the health care team.”
Long-term surveillance, which is likely the phase that Hall is at right now, can include going to a survivorship clinic in a cancer center, receiving ongoing care from your cancer care team, or transferring to a long-term plan with a primary care provider.
Quality of life is also important to consider when it comes to follow-up care. According to ASCO, Hodgkin lymphoma survivors, in particular, are encouraged to look out for symptoms of depression and to talk with their doctor immediately if they notice any signs. Always remember, your emotional health is just as important as your physical health.
Overall, every person’s cancer journey looks different. Your long-term care can differ greatly from someone with the same disease, but it’s important to talk with your doctor about what your individual plan should look like.