Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Your doctor determines your treatment options based on the type and stage of your lymphoma, your age, and your overall health.
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. Chemotherapy is 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.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancerous cells and shrink tumors. 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.
- Stem cell transplant. A stem cell transplant is a procedure that allows you to receive higher doses of chemotherapy or radiation with the goal of killing the lymphoma cells that may not be killed with standard doses. Before a stem cell transplant, healthy stem cells — those capable of producing new blood cells — are taken from your blood or bone marrow and frozen. These healthy stem cells can also come from a related or unrelated donor. After you undergo very high doses of chemotherapy to kill the lymphoma, the healthy stem cells are thawed and injected into your body, where they can form healthy new blood cells.
- Medications that enhance your immune system's ability to fight cancer. Biological drugs help your body's immune system fight cancer. Rituximab (Rituxan) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of B-cell lymphoma. Rituximab 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.
- Medications that deliver radiation directly to cancer cells. 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. Two radioimmunotherapy drugs — ibritumomab (Zevalin) and tositumomab (Bexxar) — are FDA approved for use in people with lymphoma.
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- Rituxan (prescribing information). South San Francisco, Calif.: Genentech Inc.; 2011. http://www.rituxan.com/index.html. Accessed Dec. 15, 2011.