Chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.
Learn more about:
- How it is used
- Ways to have chemotherapy
- Having chemotherapy
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Taking care with infections
- Video: What is chemotherapy?
How it is used
Chemotherapy can be used in various ways depending on the grade of non-Hodgkin lymphoma:
- low-grade – chemotherapy is often given with steroids and a targeted therapy or immunotherapy drug
- high-grade – chemotherapy is the main treatment
- advanced – chemotherapy can be used as palliative treatment.
Ways to have chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is most commonly given as a liquid infusion through a drip into a vein in your arm (intravenously). Chemotherapy infusions may be given through a specially placed device depending on how often you need chemotherapy, how long it takes to give each dose, and how long the device needs to stay in place.
A small, plastic tube that is inserted into a vein in the hand or arm.
Central venous access device
A thin plastic tube that remains in the vein throughout the course of treatment. Common types include:
- PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) – a thin tube that is inserted into the upper arm
- port-a-cath (port) – a small device that is surgically inserted under
- the skin of the chest or arm
- central line (central venous catheter or CVC) – a thin tube with several openings that is inserted into a vein in the neck or chest.
Some chemotherapy drugs for non-Hodgkin lymphoma are given as tablets you swallow.
Occasionally, chemotherapy is given into the fluid around the spine through a lumbar puncture. Having drugs this way is called intrathecal chemotherapy, and it is done to prevent or treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the brain or spinal cord.
You will usually have a combination of drugs spread over 4–6 months. The drug combination and treatment schedule will depend on the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Often chemotherapy is given over a few days, followed by a rest period of a few weeks between each session to allow the blood counts to return to normal before the next round of chemotherapy.
Throughout treatment, you will be closely monitored by your doctor and you will have tests to see how well the chemotherapy drugs are working. As chemotherapy can reduce the number of blood cells, you will have regular blood tests to check your blood count, and your liver and kidney function. You may also be given injections of a drug known as granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). This helps increase your white blood cell count and protect you from infection.
Chemotherapy treatment may be repeated several times even if tests show that the cancer is in remission after two or three cycles.
For more on this, see our general section on Chemotherapy.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about chemotherapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Christina Brown, Haematologist, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Khaled Aly, Consumer; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital; Katrina Debosz, CAR-T and Lymphoma Nurse Practitioner, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Dr Samuel Dickson, Radiation Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle; Dr Wojt Janowski, Haematologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Karen Maddock, Blood Transplant and Cell Therapy Nurse Practitioner, Westmead Hospital; Sheridan Wellings, Consumer.
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