Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma

Most people with Hodgkin lymphoma are treated with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill lymphoma cells.

Many drugs are used for Hodgkin lymphoma. Usually, the drugs are given through a thin needle directly into a vein (intravenously). Some are given by mouth.

You'll probably receive a combination of drugs in a clinic, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital during treatment.

The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing Hodgkin lymphoma cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

  • Blood cells: When drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your health care team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of the drug.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back after treatment, but the color and texture may be changed.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause a poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth blisters. Your health care team can give you medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems.

Ask your health care team whether the chemotherapy used for Hodgkin lymphoma could make you unable to have children. The fertility of adults may be harmed by the drugs, but most children treated for Hodgkin lymphoma seem to have normal fertility when they grow up. If you want to have a child someday after treatment, you may choose to store sperm or eggs before treatment starts.

Some of the drugs used for Hodgkin lymphoma can cause heart disease or cancer later on. See the Follow-up Care section for information about checkups after treatment.

The NCI booklet Chemotherapy and You has helpful ideas for coping with chemotherapy side effects.

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