Which non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatments are right for you depends on the type and stage of your disease, your overall health, and your preferences.
Treatment isn't always necessary
If your lymphoma appears to be slow growing (indolent), a wait-and-see approach may be an option. Indolent lymphomas that don't cause signs and symptoms may not require treatment for years.
Delaying treatment doesn't mean you'll be on your own. Your doctor will likely schedule regular checkups every few months to monitor your condition and ensure that your cancer isn't advancing.
Treatment for lymphoma that causes signs and symptoms
If your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is aggressive or causes signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend treatment. Options may include:
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment — given orally or by injection — that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be given alone, in combination with other chemotherapy drugs or combined with other treatments.
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs you're given. Common side effects are nausea and hair loss. Serious long-term complications can occur, such as heart damage, lung damage, fertility problems and other cancers, such as leukemia.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you're positioned on a table and a large machine directs radiation at precise points on your body. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments.
During radiation therapy, you lie on a table and a large machine moves around you, directing the energy beams to specific points on your body. Radiation can be aimed at affected lymph nodes and the nearby area of nodes where the disease might progress. The length of radiation treatment varies, depending on the stage of the disease. A typical treatment plan might have you going to the hospital or clinic five days a week for several weeks, where you undergo a 30-minute radiation treatment at each visit.
Radiation therapy can cause skin redness and hair loss at the site where the radiation is aimed. Many people experience fatigue during radiation therapy. More-serious risks include heart disease, stroke, thyroid problems, infertility, and other cancers, such as breast or lung cancer.
Bone marrow transplant
Bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, involves using high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to suppress your bone marrow. Then healthy bone marrow stem cells from your body or from a donor are infused into your blood where they travel to your bones and rebuild your bone marrow.
People who undergo bone marrow transplant may be at increased risk of infection.
Other drug therapy
Biological therapy drugs help your body's immune system fight cancer.
For example, one biological therapy called rituximab (Rituxan) is a type of monoclonal antibody that attaches to B cells and makes them more visible to the immune system, which can then attack. Rituximab lowers the number of B cells, including your healthy B cells, but your body produces new healthy B cells to replace these. The cancerous B cells are less likely to recur.
Also, a drug called ibrutinib (Imbruvica) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for some people undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Radioimmunotherapy drugs are made of monoclonal antibodies that carry radioactive isotopes. This allows the antibody to attach to cancer cells and deliver radiation directly to the cells. An example of a radioimmunotherapy drug used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is ibritumomab tiuxetan (Zevalin).
Clinical research studies (clinical trials) may be an option for people whose disease has not been controlled by other treatment options. Ask your doctor about possible clinical trials for your type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.