There are more treatment options today than ever before to control non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) or put it into remission.
Our NHL specialists work closely with you, your family and each other to get you back to health. At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, we provide all standard therapies for NHL and offer you access to the latest innovations through clinical trials.
NHL treatment at Fred Hutch is highly customized and tailored to meet each patient’s needs.
Your Fred Hutch hematologist-oncologist works alongside an entire group of lymphoma specialists. They include other hematologist-oncologists, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists and researchers who are looking for better ways to treat this disease.
Every week, this team gathers in a meeting called a tumor board. Together, dozens of team members discuss their patients’ treatment plans. This approach means each patient benefits from the experience of the whole group.
With support from the larger team, your physician will:
Your hematologist-oncologist will walk you and your caregiver through the treatment plan that has been recommended for you by the tumor board. You will have a chance to share your personal preferences and options, and you will decide together what happens next.
The treatment plan we design for you depends on many factors, including:
Because NHL includes more than 60 subtypes of cancer, there is no one way to treat everyone. Broadly speaking, however, many people are treated with chemotherapy, targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Physicians can use these one at a time or combine them. Some people need radiation therapy or a blood or marrow transplant. Others do not need any active treatment for years, but they should be carefully monitored over time. This is called watchful waiting.
At Fred Hutch, our standard always involves caring for you as a whole person. We help you get relief from side effects and provide many other forms of support, like integrative medicine, nutrition counseling and physical therapy.
Our patients can also choose to receive promising, new NHL therapies that you can get only through a clinical trial. Many people come to Fred Hutch for access to these studies. Your care team will tell you about studies that might be right for you, so you can consider joining them.
Different subtypes of NHL start, progress and respond to treatments in different ways. We choose, combine and schedule your treatments based on what works for your subtype. Your care team makes sure you understand each type of treatment and all of your choices.
If you have slow-growing (indolent or low-grade) NHL and no symptoms, your physician may recommend watchful waiting.
This is also called observation or surveillance. It means you and your physician closely monitor your health for any changes, like the start of symptoms. Symptoms can take many years to appear, or they may never appear, so treatment may not be needed for a long time.
For NHL patients who have slow-growing NHL and no symptoms, research shows that immediate treatment will not help. Plus, delaying treatment also means you don’t have to go through any difficult side effects that can happen with treatment.
During watchful waiting, you will visit your physician for exams and have blood tests and imaging tests on a regular schedule. The schedule depends mainly on your NHL subtype.
In between scheduled visits, you are not on your own. We are here. If you notice health changes, we encourage you to call so we can check whether you do need active treatment.
Some people do not need active treatment for many years. The main benefits of watchful waiting include:
Most people with NHL start by getting chemotherapy. Many of them go into complete remission with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill fast-growing cells (like cancer cells) or to keep them from dividing (which is how cancers grow).
Your hematologist-oncologist prescribes your chemotherapy and sets your treatment schedule. Usually, chemotherapy is given by infusion. Liquid medicine is put into a vein through an intravenous (IV) line. This can be a line in your arm (peripheral venous catheter) or a port in your chest (central venous catheter). Treatment happens in repeating cycles every two to six weeks.
You get infusions in a dedicated area of the clinic. Cancer nurses who are experts in infusions will give you these treatments. They will also monitor you during the treatment. They respond to any medical issues that come up and help keep you comfortable.
For B-cell lymphomas, physicians often use chemotherapy along with an antibody therapy called rituximab.
For NHL, many Fred Hutch patients receive a mix of medicines called CHOP. It works against many subtypes of NHL. CHOP stands for:
For some people, another combination of medications works better. Your Fred Hutch physician will recommend the medicines that are most likely to work for your subtype.
Immunotherapies are some of the latest advances in NHL care. They use the power of your immune system to fight your cancer.
Rituximab is one example of a monoclonal antibody that is often used for NHL. It targets a molecule on lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) and tells other immune system proteins to kill these cells. It is given in cycles by infusion.
Cellular immunotherapies are another important option. These involve taking immune cells from your body. In a lab, scientists multiply the cells. Sometimes they also re-engineer the cells to recognize and fight cancer. Then they return the cells to your body.
Fred Hutch was one of the first cancer centers to offer cellular immunotherapies approved for NHL by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These therapies include:
Only certified treatment centers, like Fred Hutch, can give these CAR T-cell therapies.
In addition to therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Fred Hutch also offers many cellular immunotherapy clinical trials for NHL patients.
For some subtypes of NHL, you may get targeted therapies. These are more exact than standard chemotherapy, which affects all fast-growing cells throughout the body.
Targeted therapies work in one of three ways:
Some examples of targeted therapies for NHL are ibrutinib, idelalisib and rituximab. Many more options are available, and the list keeps growing as researchers develop and test new ones.
Like with chemotherapy, your hematologist-oncologist will prescribe your targeted therapy. Sometimes, targeted therapies are a pill that you take at home. Or they can be given by infusion in repeating cycles. They can be used alone or with other treatments.
Targeted therapies are used for many subtypes of NHL, including:
Based on your type of lymphoma and if it has spread, your physicians may recommend radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. A radiation oncologist decides on the type, dose and schedule of your treatment.
Usually, this means that a machine aims rays right at your tumor. This is external-beam radiation therapy. You get this treatment daily, Monday through Friday, for several weeks.
For NHL, physicians most often use external-beam radiation therapy to treat cancer in the spleen or in lymph nodes in the neck, chest, armpits or groin.
For some subtypes of NHL, physicians use radioimmunotherapy. This treatment was developed by Fred Hutch. You will be given a liquid through an intravenous (IV) line. In this liquid, there is rituximab linked with a radioactive atom. The rituximab targets lymphocytes. It concentrates radiation in these cells and tells your immune system to attack them. Radioimmunotherapy is used mainly for B-cell lymphomas.
A blood or marrow transplant resets your body’s ability to make healthy blood cells. Researchers at Fred Hutch pioneered this form of treatment.
Your physicians may recommend a transplant if your first treatment does not put your NHL into complete remission or if your disease comes back.
Most transplant recipients with NHL have a transplant using blood-forming stem cells from their own body. This is called an autologous transplant. If your lymphoma is very aggressive or chemotherapy did not shrink your tumors, you might have a transplant using stem cells from a donor instead. This is called an allogeneic transplant.
A team of Fred Hutch transplant experts will care for you. Your team will include a transplant oncologist, transplant nurse, physician assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner, pharmacist, dietitian, team coordinator and social worker.
Physicians and researchers at Fred Hutch pioneered blood and marrow transplants decades ago. Today, at Fred Hutch, we continue to refine transplant techniques and to develop new options.
While you are in active treatment, your NHL care team will see you regularly for exams and tests to check:
We update your treatment plan based on the best scientific evidence as well as how your disease responds and what you prefer.
Along with treating your NHL, Fred Hutch provides a range of services to support you and your caregiver before, during and after treatment. This is part of how we take care of you — not just your disease.
From registered dietitians to our Spiritual Health team, we have experts who specialize in caring for people with cancer. We understand this may be one of the most intense and challenging experiences you and your family ever go through. We are here to provide the care you need.
Learn more about Supportive Care
When your disease is in remission and your active treatment ends, it is still important to get follow-up care on a regular basis. At follow-up visits, you will see the same Fred Hutch team who treated your NHL. They will check your overall health and look for signs that your cancer has come back (signs of recurrence).
Your team will also help with any long-term side effects (which linger after treatment ends) or late effects (which may start after treatment is over).