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Treatment Option Overview

Key Points

  • There are different types of treatment for children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors who are experts in treating childhood cancer.
  • Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.
  • Six types of standard treatment are used:
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation therapy
    • High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
    • Targeted therapy
    • Other drug therapy
    • Phototherapy
  • New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
  • Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
  • Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
  • Follow-up tests may be needed.

There are different types of treatment for children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Different types of treatment are available for children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.

Taking part in a clinical trial should be considered for all children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors who are experts in treating childhood cancer.

Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other health care providers who are experts in treating children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include the following specialists :

Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.

Side effects from cancer treatment that begin during or after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include the following:

  • Physical problems.
  • Changes in mood, feelings, thinking, learning, or memory.
  • Second cancers (new types of cancer).

Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.)

Six types of standard treatment are used:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid (intrathecal chemotherapy), an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas. Combination chemotherapy is treatment using two or more anticancer drugs.

The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Intrathecal chemotherapy may be used to treat childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma that has spread, or may spread, to the brain. When used to lessen the chance cancer will spread to the brain, it is called CNS prophylaxis. Intrathecal chemotherapy is given in addition to chemotherapy by mouth or vein. Higher than usual doses of chemotherapy may also be used as CNS prophylaxis.

Intrathecal chemotherapy; drawing shows the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain and spinal cord, and an Ommaya reservoir (a dome-shaped container that is placed under the scalp during surgery; it holds the drugs as they flow through a small tube into the brain). Top section shows a syringe and needle injecting anticancer drugs into the Ommaya reservoir. Bottom section shows a syringe and needle injecting anticancer drugs directly into the cerebrospinal fluid in the lower part of the spinal column.
Intrathecal chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are injected into the intrathecal space, which is the space that holds the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, shown in blue). There are two different ways to do this. One way, shown in the top part of the figure, is to inject the drugs into an Ommaya reservoir (a dome-shaped container that is placed under the scalp during surgery; it holds the drugs as they flow through a small tube into the brain). The other way, shown in the bottom part of the figure, is to inject the drugs directly into the CSF in the lower part of the spinal column, after a small area on the lower back is numbed.

See Drugs Approved for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for more information.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma being treated. External radiation therapy may be used to treat childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma that has spread, or may spread, to the brain and spinal cord. Internal radiation therapy is not used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant

This treatment is a way of giving high doses of chemotherapy and then replacing blood -forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the bone marrow or blood of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body’s blood cells.

See Drugs Approved for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for more information.

Stem cell transplant; (Panel 1): Drawing of stem cells being removed from a patient or donor. Blood is collected from a vein in the arm and flows through a machine that removes the stem cells; the remaining blood is returned to a vein in the other arm. (Panel 2): Drawing of a health care provider giving a patient treatment to kill blood-forming cells. Chemotherapy is given to the patient through a catheter in the chest. (Panel 3): Drawing of stem cells being given to the patient through a catheter in the chest.
Stem cell transplant. (Step 1): Blood is taken from a vein in the arm of the donor. The patient or another person may be the donor. The blood flows through a machine that removes the stem cells. Then the blood is returned to the donor through a vein in the other arm. (Step 2): The patient receives chemotherapy to kill blood-forming cells. The patient may receive radiation therapy (not shown). (Step 3): The patient receives stem cells through a catheter placed into a blood vessel in the chest.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Monoclonal antibodies, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and immunotoxins are three types of targeted therapy being used or studied in the treatment of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Monoclonal antibody therapy is a cancer treatment that uses antibodies made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.

A bispecific monoclonal antibody is made up of two different monoclonal antibodies that bind to two different substances and kills cancer cells. Bispecific monoclonal antibody therapy is used in the treatment of Burkitt and Burkitt-like lymphoma /leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) block signals that tumors need to grow. Some TKIs also keep tumors from growing by preventing the growth of new blood vessels to the tumors. Other types of kinase inhibitors, such as crizotinib, are being studied for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Immunotoxins can bind to cancer cells and kill them. Denileukin diftitox is an immunotoxin used to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

See Drugs Approved for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for more information.

Other drug therapy

Retinoids are drugs related to vitamin A. Retinoid therapy with bexarotene is used to treat several types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Steroids are hormones made naturally in the body. They can also be made in a laboratory and used as drugs. Steroid therapy is used to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Phototherapy

Phototherapy is a cancer treatment that uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein. The drug collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. For skin cancer in the skin, laser light is shined onto the skin and the drug becomes active and kills the cancer cells. Phototherapy is used in the treatment of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.


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