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Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemo is usually injected into a vein under the skin or taken as a pill. Chemo drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to reach and destroy cancer cells wherever they may be.
Chemo is the main treatment for most people with Hodgkin lymphoma (other than some people with nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma, or NLPHL). Sometimes chemo is followed by radiation therapy.
Chemo is given in cycles that include a period of treatment followed by a rest period to give the body time to recover. In general, each cycle lasts for several weeks.
Most chemo treatments are given in the doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital outpatient department, but some may require a hospital stay.
Chemo for classic Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) combines several drugs because different drugs kill cancer cells in different ways. The combinations used to treat cHL are often referred to by abbreviations.
ABVD is the most common regimen used in the United States:
Other common regimens include:
Radiation is given after chemo in the Stanford V regimen. It's sometimes given after the ABVD or BEACOPP regimens, too.
Other chemo combinations can also be used for HL. Most use some of the same drugs listed above, but they might include different combinations and be given on different schedules.
Another drug that can be considered as chemo is brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris). This is an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC), which is a monoclonal antibody attached to a chemo drug. For more on this drug, see Immunotherapy for Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Chemo drugs can cause side effects . These depend on the type and dose of drugs given and how long treatment lasts. Common short-term side effects include:
These side effects are usually short-lived and go away over time after treatment ends. If serious side effects occur, chemo may have to be delayed or the doses reduced.
Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if you do have side effects. There are often ways to help with them. For instance, drugs are often used to help prevent nausea and vomiting.
Late or long-term side effects: Some chemo drugs can have long-lasting side effects. Some of these might not occur until months or even years after treatment has ended. For example:
Long-term effects are discussed in more detail in Living as a Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor.
Before starting chemo, ask your doctor to explain possible side effects and your chances of having them. Also ask what you can do to help prevent them.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Hodgkin Lymphoma, Version I.2018 -- December 20, 2017. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/hodgkins.pdf on March 19, 2018.
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Younes A, Carbone A, Johnson P, Dabaja B, Ansell S, Kuruvilla J. Chapter 102: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.
Last Revised: October 29, 2020