Lymphoma Treatments

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to help make a choice about your lymphoma treatment. Use this sheet to help you learn the basic facts. On this webpage, you will learn about lymphoma basicshow to choose a treatment, and lymphoma treatments

Lymphoma Basics

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.Your lymphatic system is made up of a type of white blood cell.This is called a lymphocyte. It is located in your lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils and bone marrow (where blood cells are manufactured). The lymphatic system helps your body fight infection and disease.

There are two main types of lymphoma:

  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL): This type of lymphoma is most common in middle aged or elderly people. NHL can occur in lymph nodes and/or other organs that contain lymph tissue. The cancer may be located in one place in your body, but often, it is located in multiple areas throughout the body.This is because cancerous ("malignant") lymphocytes often circulate throughout your body, just like normal lymphocytes. NHL can be either "B-cell lymphoma" or "T-cell lymphoma," depending on which type of lymphocyte becomes cancerous.There are over 40 different types of NHL. Some types of NHL grow very quickly. Other types grow more slowly.
  • Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL): This type of lymphoma is most common in young adults.The cancerous ("malignant") lymph nodes contain a particular type of malignant lymphocyte, which is known as a Reed-Sternberg cell.

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How to Choose a Treatment

There are many types of treatment for lymphoma. Your treatment choices depend on three main things:

  • 1) What type of lymphoma you have.
  • 2) The stage of the lymphoma (this mean how many areas are affected by the lymphoma).
  • 3) Your general health.

You should ask the following questions when you are making a decision about your treatment:

  • What type of treatment is best for me (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biologic therapy, transplant)?
  • When should I begin treatment?
  • Benefits (how can treatment help me)?
  • Side effects of treatment (what other minor problems are caused by treatment)?

Together, you and your health care team will make a choice about which treatment (or treatments) is best for you.You should talk with your doctor, nurse, and other members of your health care team.You may ask a lot of questions about your treatment choices before making a choice.

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Lymphoma Treatments

Biologic Therapy

This treatment increases your body's natural ability to fight cancer. It does this by giving a boost to your immune system.There are several kinds of biologic therapy:

  • Monoclonal Antibodies: These are drugs like Rituxan®, which directly target lymphoma cells and do not harm normal cells.These drugs are sometimes called "smart drugs" or "guided missiles" because they know exactly where to go in your body.
  • Radioimmunotherapy: These are therapies like Rituxan®, which have a radioisotope attached to them.These "guided missiles" are able to destroy cancer cells because they attach to the lymphoma and deliver small doses of medicine to the cells.
  • Interleukin 2: This is a medicine that activates the immune system so that it can kill cancer cells.
  • Vaccines: These are treatments that help the body protect itself against the lymphoma.
Chemotherapy ("Chemo")

This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells and reduce the size of cancer tumors. Chemotherapy drugs may also affect healthy cells and cause side effects like hair loss or mouth sores.There are many types of chemotherapy drugs. Many drugs are often used together for chemotherapy.

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses radiation (high energy x-rays) to kill cancer cells.The treatment often only takes place in the part of your body where the lymphoma is located.


Sometimes high doses of chemotherapy destroy the lymphoma cells and your bone marrow, which is the "factory" for blood cells. To help your bone marrow make new healthy blood cells, some stem cells (immature cells that will grow up into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) may be taken with a special machine before chemotherapy is given.

These cells are then transplanted (put back) into the body. These transplanted cells will then find their way to the bone marrow and restore it, so that it can build healthy new blood cells.

There are two types of transplants:
1) Autologous transplants- this uses your own bone marrow or stem cells.
2) Allogeneic transplants- this uses bone marrow or stem cells from a donor (someone else, often a brother or sister).

Watchful Waiting

This means that you do not have to get any active treatment now. But, you may need to get treatments later, if tests show that your cancer is growing. Watchful waiting is usually recommended only for people with slow-growing lymphomas.

Clinical Trials

These are research studies that help doctors learn more about lymphoma treatment.They can also help people with cancer, because it allows them to receive the treatment. Often, clinical trials are the only way patients can receive new treatments, which are not otherwise available.

Clinical trials can help doctors learn about:

  • New types of treatments.
  • Ways to prevent cancer.

While clinical trials can provide many benefits, they can also be harmful for some patients.You should speak with your doctor, nurse, or health care team about clinical trials.

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