Treatments for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

Treatments for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

When a patient has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), treatment options will vary according to a number of different factors. Depending on the type of lymphoma, stage of progression at the time of diagnosis, rate of growth, age and demographics of the patient, and other factors as determined by a physician, a number of different treatments can be administered.

Sometimes, the best thing to do for non-Hodgkins lymphoma is to simply observe the disease’s behavior without taking any remedial action. This is most common when “indolent” or slow-growing lymphomas are involved. A doctor may advise a patient to carefully note any new symptoms, or schedule an appointment if and when certain conditions occur. This is often called “watchful waiting” or “surveillance.” Administering treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy too soon can be unhelpful, can create undesired side effects, and can also interfere with the physician’s ability to accurately diagnose the disease or prescribe a course of action.

During periods of watchful waiting, a physician may instruct a patient to periodically report for different tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, CT (computerized tomography) scans, blood panels, and biopsies. A physician may also provide a specific list of symptoms for a patient to note or observe. While lymphoma patients can understandably be eager to rid themselves of the disease, aggressive treatment is simply not appropriate for all cases. There are some types of non-Hodgkins lymphoma that do not respond favorably to traditional cancer treatments, and in these cases, aggressive action will make no real difference. A doctor’s expertise is of course required to assess the likelihood of treatment effectiveness.

Radiation therapy is often used for some types of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Radiation often needs to be combined with chemotherapy in order to work effectively, but this varies according to the specific type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma that a patient might have. For instance, cutaneous T-cell lymphomas can sometimes be treated by radiation alone, particularly if they are “indolent” or slow-growing in nature, whereas aggressively-growing lymphomas that have spread throughout the lymphatic system may require a battery of different therapies.

Radiation therapy, also sometimes called radiotherapy, usually involves the use of high-powered X-rays, applied to a specific area of the body. This process is done under the guidance of a radiation oncologist, or a doctor who specializes in using radiation to eliminate cancerous cells from the body. Most types of cancer are particularly vulnerable to X-ray radiation, more so than normal healthy cells. X-rays will kill some of a patient’s healthy cells, therefore, but at a slower rate than it kills cancer cells. Some types of non-Hodgkins lymphoma can be sent into remission for years as a result of repeated doses of radiation applied to the infected areas. However, this is not always sufficient, particularly for late-stage cancers that have spread.

Chemotherapy (“chemo”) is sometimes used to combat non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as well as other cancers. Chemotherapy is a generic term that simply refers to the administration of medicine as part of a treatment. Therefore, chemotherapy can be prescribed for many different reasons. Sometimes, chemo drugs are used only to mitigate the side effects of radiation therapy, whereas in other cases, chemo is used to directly combat cancerous cells.

Content distributed on behalf of The Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Center with their express permission. All Rights Reserved 2012.

The best treatment option for one patient is less than effective for someone else. In addition, the disease’s progression may require numerous changes to the treatment plan, particularly if the cancer does not respond as expected to initial treatments. Patients who have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma should research different treatment options that are available and ask their physicians about each one.

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