63-year-old Janet Martellotto Streeper beat cancer only to develop Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis five years later.
Janet Martellotto Streeper developed follicular lymphoma, a cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, in her later 50’s. Luckily, thanks to her oncologist Andrew Chapman, she overcame the disease and soon went into remission. She assumed the worst was behind her, but she couldn’t have been more wrong. Five years into her cancer remission, Janet developed Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), rare cancer that mostly affects children.
It all began when Janet suddenly began experiencing a strange itch in her feet. The sensation would happen for no particular reason, coming and going every other day. However, despite going to a dermatologist, she got no relief from her condition. Next, she developed a small lesion on her vulva. As a result, her gynecologist recommended her regular gynecological exams, along with a pap smear and colonoscopy. Then later on she began to experience fullness in her right ear, with a muffled sensation and pain that radiated to her neck. The E.N.T specialist administered an imaging study to assess for hearing loss. Although she had no hearing loss, investigations revealed a more complicated picture.
At the follow-up with her gynaecologist, Janet’s lesions in the vulva were biopsied. Results revealed Langerhans cell histiocytosis. A colonoscopy was also performed that revealed nodules in her colon; a common finding in LCH. An MRI scan further confirmed the diagnosis.
The Long Journey to Recovery
Langerhans cell histiocytosis is cancer of a type of white blood cell called Langerhans cells. Under normal conditions, these cells help protect the body from infections. However, in LCH there is an excess of these cells, resulting in an attack against normal tissues. It most commonly affects children aged 1 to 15 years. The disease can either affect a single organ or multiple organs.
Painful bone swelling is the most common symptom in LCH. In Janet’s case this appeared in the bones near her ear. Moreover, lymph node enlargement occurs in 50% of LCH patients. Janet had enlarged lymph nodes in her ears which revealed a diagnosis of LCH upon getting biopsied.
Once doctors received confirmation of Janet’s new diagnosis, her long journey to recovery began. She went on to receive multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. However, her condition continued to progress. She eventually underwent a stem cell transplant which showed a good response. She has now been in remission for over four years.
In the past, LCH has been linked to leukaemias and lymphomas. However, diagnosis is often delayed as this is rare cancer with multiple presentations. Janet’s case points to the importance of routine follow-up and regular health screenings in detecting rare diseases. And preventing misdiagnosis.