Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most often treated with anti-cancer drugs, called chemotherapy. Sometimes chemotherapy is the only treatment needed for lymphoma, but it may be used in combination with radiation therapy.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) researchers are studying new combinations of chemotherapy drugs to find the most effective combinations for different types of the disease. Many of our patients receive these combinations by taking part in clinical studies, also called clinical trials.
What Chemotherapy Does
Chemotherapy is systemic; the drugs enter your bloodstream and go throughout your body. Chemotherapy can help kill cancer cells that are in the lymph system as well as those that may have spread to other areas. Chemotherapy works by killing fast-growing cells, but the drugs cannot discriminate between cancer cells and other fast-growing cells, which may lead to side effects like hair loss.
Getting Chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
These medicines are usually given through an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in the hand or arm or through a port into a vein in the chest. Some forms may be taken by mouth in pill form. If you’re coming in for chemotherapy infusions, you may want to bring a friend or family member to sit with you during treatment, which sometimes takes several hours.
Chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is given in cycles, which means you receive an infusion of your chemotherapy drugs by IV on one day, and then you wait three to four weeks before receiving your next dose. This gives the drugs time to have an effect and also gives your body some time to recover before getting more. The number of cycles you receive depends mainly on the drugs you need and the stage of your cancer.
For Hodgkin’s lymphoma, many of our patients receive a combination of drugs called ABVD:
- Doxorubicin hydrochloride (Adriamycin)
- Bleomycin (Blenoxane)
- Vinblastine sulfate (Velban, Velsar)
- Dacarbazine (DTIC-Dome)
For patients with the most aggressive forms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, we may use other combinations, such as Stanford V—mechlorethamine hydrochloride (Mustargen), doxorubicin hydrochloride, vinblastine sulfate, vincristine sulfate (Oncovin), bleomycin, etoposide (Toposar, VePesid), and prednisone. Another option is BEACOPP—bleomycin, etoposide, doxorubicin hydrochloride, cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Clafen, Neosar), vincristine sulfate, procarbazine hydrochloride (Matulane), and prednisone. Your doctor will recommend the combination most likely to work for your cancer.
Oliver W. Press, MD, PhD, chair of lymphoma research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and professor of medical oncology at University of Washington School of Medicine, cares for patients at SCCA and is the principal investigator for a national study to evaluate using early positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to help determine which therapy to use for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dr. Press is co-chairman of the National Cancer Institute’s Lymphoma Steering Committee and a member of the executive committee of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
Side effects of chemotherapy vary greatly from person to person and depend on the type and dose of the drugs given, the way they are given, and the length of time they are given. Your treatment team can tell you about the side effects that are most common with your drugs. Let your team know about any side effects you experience.
For general information to help you cope with side effects, visit our section on symptom management.