If you’ve been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, your hematologist will describe your treatment choices and the expected results. You and your cancer care team can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma include hematologist-oncologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. Your doctor may suggest that you choose an oncologist who specializes in the treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Often, such doctors are associated with major academic centers. Your health care team may also include an oncology nurse and a registered dietitian.
People with Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both.
If Hodgkin’s lymphoma comes back after treatment, doctors call this a relapse or recurrence. People with a relapse of their Hodgkin’s lymphoma may receive high doses of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both, followed by stem cell transplantation.
Chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma uses drugs to kill lymphoma cells. It is called systemic therapy because the drugs travel through the bloodstream. The drugs can reach lymphoma cells in almost all parts of the body.
Usually, more than one drug is given. Most drugs for Hodgkin’s lymphoma are given through a vein (intravenous), but some are taken by mouth.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles. You have a treatment period followed by a rest period. The length of the rest period and the number of treatment cycles depend on the stage of your disease and on the anticancer drugs used.
You may have your treatment in a clinic, at the doctor’s office or at home. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for treatment.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) for Hodgkin’s lymphoma uses high-energy rays to kill lymphoma cells. It can shrink tumors and help control pain.
A large machine aims the rays at the lymph node areas affected by lymphoma. This is local therapy because it affects cells in the treated area only. Most people go to a hospital or clinic for treatment five days a week for several weeks.
If Hodgkin’s lymphoma returns after treatment, you may receive stem cell transplantation. A transplant of your own blood-forming stem cells (autologous stem cell transplantation) allows you to receive high doses of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both. The high doses destroy both Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells and healthy blood cells in the bone marrow.
Stem cell transplants take place in the hospital. Before you receive high-dose treatment, your stem cells are removed and may be treated to kill lymphoma cells that may be present. Your stem cells are frozen and stored. After you receive high-dose treatment to kill Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells, your stored stem cells are thawed and given back to you through a flexible tube placed in a large vein in your neck or chest area. New blood cells develop from the transplanted stem cells.