Remission for B-Cell Lymphoma

When your doctor says, "You're in remission," it's a major milestone in the treatment of your B-cell lymphoma. It means your cancer is no longer active or it has disappeared.

What Are the Types of Remission?

Your doctor will tell you that you're in remission when scans show you have a lot less cancer or no signs of cancer in your body. There are two forms:

Partial remission. Your B-cell lymphoma has gotten smaller, but it's still there. Usually the cancer has shrunk by half or more.

Complete remission. Your doctor can't find any sign of your cancer on scans and other tests. You might still have a few cancer cells left, but they're too small for tests to find.

Which type of remission your doctor aims for depends on the kind of B-cell lymphoma you have. Some forms of the disease have a good chance of going into complete remission. With others, even partial remission is considered a success.

Does Remission Mean You're Cured?

When you're in remission, your lymphoma could still come back. But because it's not currently active, you may be able to stop treatment or take a break from it.

There's no way to know for sure how long your remission will last. That's why you and your doctor will keep an eye on it. You'll have regular visits for exams and tests to make sure your lymphoma doesn't grow or come back.

Some doctors only use the word "cured" to describe people who've been in remission for a long time, often 5 years or more.

In some people, lymphoma never completely goes away. It becomes a chronic illness like diabetes or arthritis. Just as with a chronic disease, you'll stay on treatment to prevent your cancer from spreading and to manage your symptoms.

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How Will Your Doctor Monitor You for Cancer Relapse?

Your doctor will watch you carefully for any signs that your lymphoma has returned and will restart treatment if it does.

At first you might see your doctor every few months. Once you've been cancer-free for several months or years, you won't need checkups as often.

At each visit, your doctor will examine you and ask if you've had any symptoms. You'll also get blood tests, and sometimes imaging tests like CT or PET scans.

If these tests show any signs of cancer, you'll have a biopsy to confirm whether your lymphoma has returned. During this test, the doctor removes part or all of a lymph node. A lab tests the sample for cancer.

What Happens During a Relapse?

When B-cell lymphoma relapses, it usually causes symptoms. You may notice the same ones you had the first time you were diagnosed, or they could be different this time around.

Signs of a lymphoma relapse include:

Other diseases can also cause these problems. For instance, a fever and swollen glands can be signs of infections like the flu or strep throat. Just because you have these symptoms doesn't mean your cancer has come back. But if you notice them, see your doctor for a checkup to make sure.

What Are the Treatments for a Relapse?

Your doctor might recommend the same treatment as before, or they could suggest something new.

Which treatment you get depends on:

  • Type of B-cell lymphoma you have
  • Treatment you had before and how well it worked
  • Side effects you had during your last treatment and how much they bothered you
  • Test results
  • Your symptoms
  • How much time has passed since you were treated the last time

Treatments for a lymphoma relapse can include:

Your doctor may also suggest immunotherapy, such as:

  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • CAR T-cell therapy

The treatments you get this time around may be stronger than the ones you had when you were diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 03, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Living as a Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor," "Managing Cancer as a Chronic Illness," "Tests for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma," "Treating B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma."

Cancer Research UK: "If your non-Hodgkin lymphoma comes back."

Lymphoma Action: "Aims of Treatment," "What happens if lymphoma relapses?"

National Cancer Institute: "Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ) -- Patient Version."

UpToDate: "Patient education: Diffuse large B cell lymphoma in adults (Beyond the Basics)."

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