Treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. The plan is based on your health and specific information about the cancer. What you want is also important when planning treatment. When deciding which treatments to offer for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), your healthcare team will consider:

When planning treatment, the healthcare will look at if the NHL is an indolent or aggressive type.

Indolent NHL means that the cancer is growing slowly. Because it grows slowly, some people will only ever need watchful waiting. If other treatments are used, like chemotherapy or targeted therapy, indolent NHLs usually respond well to treatment and can often be controlled for many years. They can come back after treatment or become resistant to treatment over time. Some indolent NHLs can also change into a more aggressive type of NHL and are treated the same as the aggressive type.

Aggressive NHL means that the cancer is growing quickly. An aggressive NHL often causes symptoms soon after it develops, and these symptoms usually need to be treated right away. Aggressive NHLs usually respond well to treatment.

The healthcare team will also consider how much cancer is in the body when planning treatment. They usually put NHL into 1 of 2 main stages.

Limited stage usually includes stage 1 and stage 2.

Advanced stage usually includes stage 3 and stage 4. Stage 2 may be considered advanced in certain situations, such as if you have B symptoms or bulky disease. Bulky disease refers to the size of the tumours or areas of lymphoma in the body. How bulky disease is defined may be different for different types of NHL, but it usually refers to tumours that are 10 cm or larger. Find out more about staging for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Response to treatment

For some types of NHL, your healthcare team may use imaging tests to check how the cancer is responding to treatment. You may hear some of the following common terms.

Complete response (CR) means there are no signs of cancer.

Partial response (PR) means the lymphoma has shrunk by at least half or more but is still detectable.

Stable disease means the lymphoma doesn't get better or worse after treatment.

Disease progression means the lymphoma is getting worse. It may also be called treatment failure.

Refractory disease means the cancer doesn't respond to treatment or comes back soon after being treated.

Relapse means the lymphoma comes back after being treated.

Treatment by type of NHL

There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Each type may be treated differently.

Chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is often treated with chemotherapy.

Targeted therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules on cancer cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is usually treated with targeted therapy.

Watchful waiting for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Watchful waiting may be offered for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The healthcare team watches the cancer closely to see if it is growing before offering other treatments.

Immunotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is sometimes treated with immunotherapy. It helps strengthen the immune system to fight cancer.

Stem cell transplant for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

A stem cell transplant replaces stem cells. Stem cells are basic cells that develop into different types of cells that have different jobs. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is sometimes treated with stem cell transplant.

Radiation therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

Surgery for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Surgery is a medical procedure to examine, remove or repair tissue. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is sometimes treated with surgery.

Supportive therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Supportive therapy is given to treat the complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and its treatments.

Follow-up after treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Follow-up is an important part of care for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It often involves regular tests and visits with the healthcare team.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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