The four-time Ryder Cup captain revealed that he has been suffering from cancer since 2014. Due to his diagnosis, the champ has had to receive chemotherapy and get a second opinion at The Mayo Clinic in Florida. Sadly for the star, the condition is incurable. Talking about the condition he said: “I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, which is manageable, but it’s incurable. “It was funny because I had to listen to two or three Ben Hogan stories from the doctor, and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Just tell me whether I’m going to die or not!’
“I had chemo, four different times – a month apart. I kept having the scans, and after four scans I was as good as clear. They said I was officially in remission. This was 18 months ago, and I’m vigilant, but I feel fine. But you never know.”
Macmillan Cancer Support defines follicular lymphoma (FL) as a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) – a cancer of the lymphatic system – that develops when B cells become cancerous.
B-cells are white blood cells that normally help fight infection; when they become abnormal, they usually build-up in the lymph nodes which in turn affects other parts of the body.
The condition develops slowly, and treatment might not be needed straight away. One of the main symptoms of the condition is painless swelling in the neck, armpit or groin.
READ MORE: Pfizer booster shot: The ‘unexpected’ side effect after third dose – Pfizer finding
Other individuals develop what is known as “B-symptoms”, these include the following:
- Drenching night sweats which require a change of nightwear and bed covers
- High temperatures (fevers) with no obvious cause
- Unexplained weight loss.
If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
When consulting your GP they will most likely perform a biopsy if they suspect it is FL. This involves the doctor taking a sample of tissue from the affected area – in this case the enlarged lymph node.
Once tested, results will show whether the area is cancerous or not. Other biopsies from other areas such as your bone marrow may also be advised.
Once diagnosed, doctors will grade the condition. This is based on how likely it is to grow and spread. Low-grade FL indicates that it is slow spreading and high-grade FL indicates the opposite.
Causes of FL are largely unknown, although it is believed that having a close relative such as a brother, parent or sister who has the condition already may increase your risk.
In general FL is the most common type of low-grade lymphoma with around 2,600 people in the UK diagnosed each year.
Statistics produced by Cancer Research UK states that out of all people with NHL, 19 out of 100 people (19 percent) have follicular lymphoma. It mainly affects adults over the age of 60.
Depending on the stage of the condition, treatments will also vary. As indicated before, due to the slow nature of the condition many do not need treatment straight away, instead having regular check-ups.
This is known as “watch and wait” or “active monitoring”, and is most likely to be advised by medical professionals if you have not experienced any symptoms or the lymphoma was removed with your biopsy.
Treatments for more developed FL and NHL aims to control it for as long as possible rather than cure it completely.
As seen in Tony’s case, treatment can often control the disease for several years. This is known as remission.
When the lymphoma comes back, more treatment options are available including first-line treatment and maintenance treatment.
First-line treatment involves using a drug known as rituximab which helps your immune system find and kill the lymphoma cells. Your doctor might offer you a combination of treatments if you have symptoms, or if you have very enlarged lymph nodes, such as chemotherapy with rituximab. This combination of chemotherapy and rituximab is called chemoimmunotherapy.
Maintenance treatment also involves rituximab, but individuals only have it every two months for up to two years.
If the lymphoma returns rituximab is again used to curb symptoms and manage the condition. If the condition is more severe after a relapse, more intensive treatment is recommended including higher dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.