What is blood cancer? Sam Neill reveals he’s in treatment for stage-three diagnosis

Sam Neill has revealed that he’s in the midst of being treated for stage three blood cancer, after being diagnosed with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL).

The Jurassic Park star addressed how his condition has worsened in his forthcoming memoir, Did I Ever Tell You This? “The thing is, I’m crook. Possibly dying.” he writes. “I may have to speed this up.”

Ahead of the release, he did an interview with The Guardian about how his book has helped him stay positive, as he found himself with “nothing to do” and was deprived of the “human company” that he had at work every day.

“I never had any intention to write a book,” he said. “But as I went on and kept writing, I realised it was actually sort of giving me a reason to live and I would go to bed thinking, ‘I’ll write about that tomorrow… that will entertain me.’ And so it was a lifesaver really, because I couldn’t have gone through that with nothing to do, you know.”

Per The Guardian, Neill first experienced swollen glands while doing publicity for Jurassic World Dominion in March last year and was soon diagnosed with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma . He will be on chemotherapy medication for the rest of his life, although he is now cancer-free.

Here’s everything to know about the actor’s blood cancer, from starting signs to how to diagnose the condition.

What is blood cancer and what kind does Neill have?

While there are many different forms of blood cancers, they typically start in one’s bone marrow, where blood is produced, per Yale Medicine. It is often “caused by a dysfunction in cellular growth and behaviour”, such as “excessive production of white blood cells in the bone marrow”.

The medical site also notes that there are three main types of blood cancers: Leukaemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma. Neill’s condition is a form of lymphoma, which is cancer in a part of the immune system, particularly in the body’s lymph nodes.

As noted by the Lymphoma Research Foundation, AITL is often a form of peripheral T-cell lymphoma, which is “defined as a diverse group of aggressive lymphomas that develop from mature-stage white blood cells called T-cells and natural killer (NK) cells”.

It is “one of the more common subtypes of T-cell lymphomas”, with elderly patients more likely to be diagnosed with it. However, the condition is pretty rare, as it only makes up for 2 per cent of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases in the US, which is one of the main subtypes of lymphoma.

How to diagnose this type of lymphoma

In order to diagnose AITL, doctors can take a biopsy of patients and look at their cells under a microscope, per Lymphoma Research Foundation. Depending on how developed the condition is, it can also be determined through blood tests, a computed tomography (CT) scan, bone marrow biopsy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

The medical site also notes that patients with it are usually diagnosed at Stage III or Stage IV of the disease. During Stage III, “affected lymph nodes are found both above and below the diaphragm”, while “one or more organs beyond the lymph nodes” are impacted during Stage IV.

What are the symptoms of this condition?

While symptoms can differ, some common ones include high fever, night sweats, skin rash, and autoimmune disorders, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation. Some of these disorders can be autoimmune hemolytic anaemia (AIHA) and immune thrombocytopenia (ITP).

As a result of these autoimmune diseases, “the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues, such as red blood cells or platelets”.

In general, lymphoma symptoms can also range from unexplained weight loss, to itchy skin, to shortness of breath, per Mayo Clinic.

How to treat AITL

Symptoms of AITL can include joint inflammation or pain and skin rash, which can be temporarily relieved through a steroid treatment, according to the Lymphoma Research foundation.

The organisation also recommends “a multiagent chemotherapy regimen” or participating in a clinical trial as first forms of treatment for patients. The chemotherapy could also be followed by stem cell transplantation, which is when patients receive healthy blood cells to replace the ones that have been destroyed by radiation.

Some drugs have been tested and viewed as a promising form of treatment, such as Brentuximab vedotin, Lenalidomide, and Panobinostat.