From OHC

May 20, 2024

According to the American Cancer Society, Mantel Cell Lymphoma (MCL) is a rare and aggressive type of lymphoma that impacts roughly 5% of cases each year.  Because of its aggressive nature, MCL is difficult to treat and cannot be cured.  Patients typically experience a never-ending cycle of treatment, remission, and relapse, with the time in remission unknown and unpredictable.  However, at OHC, there are active clinical trials that have the potential to offer a longer and more active remission cycle.

OHC patient Sandy Hunt is living proof of how a second opinion led her to a clinical trial that offered her hope and a possible new treatment for other patients with MCL.  In May of 2019, Sandy noticed a lump on her neck around the same time she noticed a few irregular heart rate readings on her smartwatch.  Even though she had already seen her primary care physician in January of that year, she felt that these two symptoms were enough to warrant a second visit.  A CT scan revealed enlarged lymph nodes on both sides of her body, which led to a diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic lymphoma.  Unfortunately for Sandy, that diagnosis was not complete, and after more testing, it was further revealed to be MCL.  Not only did Sandy have a rare form of lymphoma, but she also had an even rarer subtype based on a genetic marker, TP53, that made her MCL even more aggressive and resistant to standard-of-care therapies.  “I’m lucky that I didn’t wait to have it checked. I followed up with my doctor immediately and because of that, it wasn’t in my bones yet,” adds Sandy.

Sandy’s cancer doctor at the Christ Hospital recommended she visit a specialist based in Columbus.  While they were knowledgeable and offered Sandy a treatment plan, their plan didn’t provide the support that Sandy was hoping for, so she returned to Cincinnati.  Her cancer doctor conferred with OHC hematologist, medical oncologist, and blood and marrow cancer specialist James H. Essell, MD.  Upon meeting with Sandy, Dr. Essell explained, “The best course of action was an aggressive treatment that would provide her with more time.  New clinical trial therapies with better outcomes were on the horizon for MCL, but we needed to give Sandy time in order to be eligible for those treatments in the future.” Armed with hope and a feeling of comfort and support, Sandy began her journey with OHC.

Sandy’s immediate treatment included four cycles of what is called the Nordic regimen.  This included high-dose chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem cell transplant in December 2019.  Sandy went into remission for two years and in August of 2022, her cancer returned.  Luckily, a new clinical trial was available for Sandy that would provide her with a less aggressive treatment.  Sandy enrolled in the trial under the careful supervision of Dr. Essell and the OHC clinical research nurses.

Within only two months of starting the clinical trial, Sandy achieved remission and remains on the clinical trial medication, taking a daily pill.  Feeling grateful and realizing the benefit she has received from participating in the trial, Sandy shares, “I have young grandkids and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see them grow, now I’m looking at hopefully seeing them graduate high school and start their lives thanks to this trial,” adds Sandy.

The clinical trial offered to Sandy was for the medication pirtobrutinib, which is a targeted therapy that is currently FDA-approved for MCL as a third-line treatment, meaning a patient must undergo two other forms of treatment before using this medication.  Sandy’s trial is evaluating the drug’s effectiveness as a second-line treatment, meaning a patient must undergo one other form of treatment.  Pirtobrutinib works by blocking a protein called Bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK) that helps cancer cells live and grow.  There are other BTK inhibitors similar to pirtobrutinib, but this particular drug works more effectively for patients who were found to be less responsive to the current BTK inhibitor therapies.  This is because pirtobrutinib blocks a wider range of BTKs, including those that help cancer cells survive. This makes it more effective in stopping B-cell mutations that cause B-cell lymphomas like MCL.

At the time of Sandy’s relapse, OHC was the only practice in Ohio offering this groundbreaking clinical trial.  “Clinical trials provide hope to patients, especially those facing an uncurable cancer like Sandy and offer them valuable time, and often the possibility of remission,” states Dr. Essell.  OHC doctors are relentless in their pursuit to bring forward leading-edge trials to cancer patients.  “We know it will be through a clinical trial that we will find a cure for cancer,” adds Dr. Essell. These treatments should always be discussed with patients when faced with a cancer diagnosis.

As Sandy reflects on her first meeting with Dr. Essell, she recalls he wanted to focus on giving me more time with my family until a clinical trial was available, she knew she was in the right place.  “My brother and sister did all this research and then we met Dr. Essell, and it was clear that he was the perfect doctor for me.  He’s so innovative, cutting-edge, and brilliant that I know I couldn’t have a better cancer doctor.  I trust him and his opinion completely.  I feel so safe with Dr. Essell and with the entire team at OHC,” adds Sandy.

To learn more about OHC’s entire team of cancer experts, clinical trials, or to schedule an appointment, or request a second opinion, visit or call 888-649-4800.

Top picture includes OHC patient Sandy Hunt with her two grandsons.

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