Is Immunotherapy an Option for My Lymphoma?

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 20, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

When you find out that you have lymphoma, one of the first things on your mind is sure to be, “What’s my treatment going to be?”

Your doctor will talk with you about your treatment options. These choices will depend on things like the type of lymphoma you have, the stage of the lymphoma, and your personal preferences.

Immunotherapy, which works with your body’s immune system, is one of the key types of treatment for lymphoma. It may be the only treatment you get, or you may get it along with chemo. It may be part of your first treatment. Or your doctor may recommend immunotherapy if other approaches stop working or if your lymphoma comes back after treatment.

Your Lymphoma Type

There are many different kinds of immunotherapy used to treat lymphoma. For some types of lymphoma, many years of research and clinical trials support the use of immunotherapy. For instance, doctors treat nearly all types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma with immunotherapy from the very start. But if you have Hodgkin's lymphoma, you probably won’t get immunotherapy unless other treatments don’t work.

You might get a specific type of immunotherapy because the doctor tested your cancer cells and found that they have a certain protein or marker on them. Some drugs are designed to attach to certain proteins found mostly on cancer cells.

Your Lymphoma’s Stage

Your doctor will also consider the stage of your lymphoma when deciding on immunotherapy and how to best use it.

For instance, doctors can treat some early stage gastric MALT lymphomas with only immunotherapy. They might also use it to treat advanced stages, possibly also with chemo, radiation, and other drug treatments.

If you have follicular lymphoma that’s in its later stages but you don’t have symptoms, your doctor may offer you a choice of closely watching the cancer and not treating it right away, or starting treatment with immunotherapy. Your doctor will talk with you about the pros and cons of each option so you can make the decision that’s best for you. But if you have a later stage of this lymphoma, you might need to get chemo and immunotherapy at the same time.

Your Choices

At each step of your cancer treatment, you’re in charge. If you’re not sure you understand your options, or if you have questions or concerns, raise them with your oncologist. If you feel like you need to make a quick decision but aren’t ready to, ask your oncologist how long you have to decide -- you might have more time than you think.

During your lymphoma treatment, you’ll get scans and blood tests to see if it’s working. If the lymphoma hasn’t gotten smaller or gone away, or if side effects are a problem, your doctor will recommend switching you to other kinds of treatment, maybe including a different kind of immunotherapy.

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American Cancer Society: “What Is Cancer Immunotherapy?,” “Immunotherapy for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma,” “Treating B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma,” “Whole-Body (Systemic) Treatments for Skin Lymphomas,” “Immunotherapy for Hodgkin Lymphoma,” “Treating Nodular Lymphocytic Predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma (NLPHL),” “Treating T-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas,” “Treating Classic Hodgkin Lymphoma, by Stage,” “CAR T-Cell Therapies.”

Libre Pathology: “Lymphoma.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Lymphoma - Non-Hodgkin: Treatment Options.”

Genentech Inc.: “Highlights of Prescribing Information: Rituxan,” “Highlights of Prescribing Information: Rituxan Hycela.”

National Comprehensive Cancer Network: Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): ”B-Cell Lymphomas, Version 3.2018 -- April 13, 2018,” “Primary Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphomas, Version 2.2018 -- January 10, 2018,” “Hodgkin Lymphoma, Version 3.2018 -- April 16, 2018,” “T-Cell Lymphomas, Version 3.2018 -- February 22,2018.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus: “Thalidomide.”

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