Non-Hodgkin's Lymphomas - Treatments

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What is the treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Your doctor will usually refer you to an oncologist for evaluation and treatment. Some large academic medical centers have oncologists who specialize in lymphomas.

The treatment plan depends mainly on the following:

  • The type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Its stage (where the lymphoma is found)
  • How quickly the cancer is growing
  • The patient's age
  • Whether the patient has other health problems
  • If there are symptoms present such as fever and night sweats (see above)

If you have a slow-growing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma without symptoms, you may not require treatment for the cancer right away. You will be watched closely by your health-care team. These cancers might not require treatment for years, although close follow-up is necessary. If the indolent lymphoma produces symptoms, therapy will usually consist of chemotherapy and biological therapy. Stage I and II often require radiation therapy.

For an aggressive type of lymphoma, a combination of chemotherapy and biological therapy is usually indicated, and sometimes radiation therapy will be added.

If treatment is required, there are several options that are utilized alone or in combination:

Chemotherapy: This is a drug treatment either as an injection or oral form that kills cancer cells. This treatment can involve one medication or multiple medications and be given alone or in conjunction with other therapies. This therapy is given in cycles, alternating treatment periods and nontreatment periods. The repetition of these cycles and the number of cycles will be determined by your oncologist based on the staging of your cancer and the medications used. Chemotherapy also harms normal cells that divide rapidly. This can lead to hair loss, GI symptoms, and difficulty with your immune system.

Radiation therapy: High doses of radiation are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This modality can be used alone or in conjunction with other therapies. Side effects usually depend on the type and dosage of the therapy as well as the area undergoing radiation therapy. Universally, patients tend to get tired during radiation therapy, especially toward the later stages of treatment.

Stem cell transplant: This procedure allows you to receive large doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill the lymphoma cells that might not be killed with standard levels of therapy. This therapy is used if your lymphoma returns after treatment. For this therapy, you need to be admitted to the hospital. After the therapy, healthy stem cells (that were either taken from you before the therapy or from a donor) are injected to form a new immune system.

Biological drugs: These are medications that enhance your immune system's ability to fight cancers. In NHL, monoclonal antibodies are used for treatment. The therapy is administered via an IV, and the monoclonal antibodies bind to the cancer cells and augment the immune system's ability to destroy cancer cells. Rituximab (Rituxan) is such a drug used in the treatment of B cell lymphoma. Side effects for this treatment are usually flu-like symptoms. Rarely, a person can have a severe reaction, including a drop in blood pressure or difficulty breathing.

Radio immunotherapy medications: These are made of monoclonal antibodies that transport radioactive materials directly to cancer cells. Because the radioactive material is traveling and binding directly to the cancer cell, more radiation is delivered to the cancer cell and less to the normal tissue. Ibritumomab (Zevalin) and tositumomab (Bexxar) are two drugs approved for this use in lymphomas. Side effects usually include getting very tired or experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Additional aspects of cancer treatments

In addition to medical therapies, patients will also require supportive care. You should have the opportunity to learn about your disease and the treatment options and discuss this with your care team. Most cancer centers will have support groups where you can share your concerns with other patients and learn from their experiences.

Some patients find moderate physical activity helpful. You should discuss with your doctor what kind of activities are appropriate.

Eating the appropriate amounts of foods, as well as the right foods, is an important part of your treatment. Speaking with a nutritionist can be very helpful.

In addition, vitamin deficiencies (especially vitamin D) have recently been linked to worse survival in some subgroups of cancer patients. Patients should discuss their nutritional requirements with their health-care team.

Appropriate caloric intake is important especially if nausea is present as a result of your treatments. Some people find that exercise can help their nausea during therapy. Acupuncture has also shown to decrease the side effects of cancer treatments.

Return to Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

See what others are saying

Comment from: blessed, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: February 13

In Dec. 2001 I was diagnosed with NHL stage IV. I was in hospital 3 months, had several surgeries and CHOP. My bone marrow stopped producing after my 5th chemo so I was again hospitalized for blood transfusions. My bone marrow returned and I continued my 8 rounds of CHOP. I was then 55 years old. Now, 10 years later, I am a healthy retired female. Twice I had heard the nurses discussing me and how they thought they would be carrying me "out the backdoor" any day, and how very very ill I was.

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Comment from: CoachKyle, 25-34 Male (Patient) Published: March 04

In August of 2006 I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (ALCL). I was 18 years old and had just finished my first year of college. I had never even heard of this disease until the day I was diagnosed. I was feeling flu-like symptoms, extreme night sweats, fatigue, and had multiple swollen lymph nodes in my groin. I went through 6 rounds of CHOP chemotherapy and was declared in remission. However, 6 years later, it returned, this time in my neck area. I went forward with a new treatment called brentuximab followed by a stem-cell transplant. I am 2 years out of my transplant and so far, so good. Sometimes you just have to hope you are holding a better hand of cards than the cancer is. Hang in there.

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