Consortium Spotlights Rare Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Builds Awareness

At a recent symposium on cutaneous lymphoma, physicians and researchers gathered in midtown Manhattan to share novel ideas and form collaborations aimed at one of the rarest forms of cancer. Cutaneous lymphoma is an uncommon subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that appears on the skin but originates in white blood cells. Because of its uniqueness, oncologists, dermatologists and pathologists need to work hand in hand in order to properly treat patients today as well as continue to advance research that improves treatment options and diagnostic techniques. 

With that in mind, Larisa J. Geskin, MD, FAAD, founded the New York Cutaneous Lymphoma Consortium—a group, she says, that is going after the disease in an interdisciplinary and comprehensive way. Dr. Geskin is a member of Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, associate professor of dermatology and director of the Comprehensive Skin Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

“Generally speaking, lymphoma doctors and dermatologists don’t have a deep knowledge of cutaneous lymphoma; it is such a rare disease,” she says. “Oncologists aren’t trained in dermatology and dermatologists aren’t trained in oncology. There was a disconnect between these two specialties, and a group of us wanted to narrow that gap.”

Over the past three years, Dr. Geskin, whose specialty is in the diagnosis and management of cutaneous lymphomas and other cancers of the skin, spearheaded the efforts to get the new consortium off the ground. Last year, the group held its inaugural full-day symposium, and recently, on November 6, hosted its second annual Cutaneous Lymphoma Grand Rounds, which drew participants from outside the Tri-state area. 

“People in our field are really excited about this,” adds Dr. Geskin. “We are consolidating that leading local brain power in cutaneous lymphoma, people who understand the benefit of working together in order to properly tackle this disease.”

The consortium not only drives cross-collaborations between the various medical centers, hospitals, and research institutions in the New York area, but also is dedicated to raising awareness and educating the entire oncology and dermatology communities about cutaneous lymphoma. One of the main purposes of the group’s annual symposium is to inform and educate other medical specialties—pathologists and radiation oncologists—about this rare subtype of cancer, and discuss difficult cases and existing clinical trials. 

The group is in the process of building a tissue-sharing bank for basic and translational research projects. The founding members are currently working with all major New York institutions on this significant endeavor and undergoing the regulatory steps involved. The goal is to get this up and running by 2020. Another major aspect of the consortium is supporting trainees. They are working on formalizing a trainee program so that young investigators and medical students can be exposed to all corners of cutaneous lymphoma research and patient care. Dr. Geskin leads the group with Steven Horowitz, MD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill-Cornell) and Jo-Ann Latkowski, MD (New York University). 

Dr. Geskin, who joined Columbia in 2013 from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, also focuses on melanoma screening, prevention, medical and surgical therapy, and management of high risk for skin cancer populations. She helped develop novel melanoma detection methods, including MelaFind, a non-invasive tool that provides additional information to dermatologists during melanoma screenings. Ongoing research in her lab includes investigating infectious causes for cutaneous lymphoma and exploring epigenetic modulation behind the cause of the disease. 

Cutaneous lymphoma is not well understood, is difficult to diagnose, and the survival rates differ from patient to patient quite drastically. Dr. Geskin and others hope their new consortium will greatly benefit patients through dedicated research, improved treatment, and a deeper understanding of the disease. 

“There is so much gratification that comes from helping the patients and developing deep and meaningful relationships with them,” says Dr. Geskin. And with Columbia’s ideal location in New York, patients benefit greatly, she notes, when multiple institutions combine strengths and work together.

“New York is so unique. We’re exposed to a wide network here for potential cross-exchange and collaboration,” she says. “Locally, we see more cutaneous lymphoma patients than anywhere in the world. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this community of excellent physicians and scientists.” 

-Melanie A. Farmer