Starting Immunotherapy for NHL

It's normal to be concerned about cancer treatment. Knowing what's to come can make it easier to handle.

The kind of immunotherapy you'll get depends on the type and stage of your cancer and how healthy you are. Your care team will give you specific instructions to get ready for your treatment. But generally speaking, here's what you can expect.

Do Your Homework

When you and your doctor decide this is going to be your treatment, you'll need to lay some groundwork.

Talk to your insurance company. Immunotherapy costs a lot. Find out the price of your treatment and how much your insurance will pay. You may need to make arrangements to cover the rest of the bill.

Double-check your birth control. Immunotherapy can harm a fetus, so getting pregnant while you're taking these medications isn't a good idea.

Ask about meds. Find out if you should stop blood pressure pills, aspirin, or other medicines you normally take.

Stop drinking. You don't have to follow a special diet before you get your medicine, but it's best to avoid alcohol.

Have the side effects talk. They're not the same for everyone, and some people might not have any. No one can know ahead of time exactly how you'll feel. Most side effects go away after treatment, but some might not.

Ask your care team what to watch for and who you can call after normal business hours. It's important to deal with side effects right away. Some can be serious and even life-threatening.

Plan Your Schedule

The treatment process will likely take most of a day, so you'll need to get time off from work or school. Ask your doctor when you can go back to your normal routine.

Not everyone gets sick from their treatment, but more than one-third of people do. Don't make any big plans until you know how you'll feel.

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Before Your Infusion

Pack a snack. You'll be at the cancer center a long time and may want something to eat.

Bring toys. You'll want things to pass the time, like books, music, and puzzles -- and a charging cord and backup battery for your tablet and smartphone.

Arrange for a ride home. Your treatment could make you dizzy or drowsy, so you won't be able to drive.

Set up childcare. You may feel really tired or like you have the flu afterward. Ask a friend or family member to watch the kids.

Getting Treatment

You'll usually be in your doctor's office or a clinic or hospital. You won't have to stay overnight.

The medicine goes in through an IV tube in your arm, what doctors call an infusion. It can take up to 6 hours, especially at first. How often you get an infusion depends on the type of immunotherapy and how your body reacts to it.

CAR T-cell therapy is different. Only a few special medical centers can do it, so you may have to travel there. Plan to stay about 2 weeks. 

Side Effects and Complications

All immunotherapy treatments can cause side effects. You'll get medicine to help prevent them before your treatment starts, but you still might not feel great during or after an infusion.

Immunotherapy can also cause chest pain, trouble breathing, and serious infections. If you have any of these, call 911 right away.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 20, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

"Understanding Immunotherapy: A guide for people affected by cancer," Cancer Council Australia, 2017.

American Cancer Society: "Immunotherapy for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma."

Chemocare: "Rituxan."

Rituxan.com: "Preparing for your RITUXAN infusion."

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: "9 things to know about CAR T-cell therapy."

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