Hodgkin lymphoma

5 min read

Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer affecting a type of white blood cells, called lymphocytes, that are found mostly in the lymphatic system. Lymphocytes circulate throughout the body via the blood and lymphatic system and help your body fight infection and disease. The lymphatic system is made up of lymph fluid, lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph organs.

The lymphatic system

Infographic on the lymphatic system
Adapted from the Canadian Cancer Society.
Lymph nodes, located throughout the body, are key structures of the lymphatic system that filter lymph fluid to remove foreign particles. When bacteria and other invaders are found in the lymph fluid, lymphocytes multiply within the lymph nodes.
Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that typically begins in abnormal B cells, called Hodgkin and Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells. Hodgkin lymphoma can occur anywhere in the lymphatic system, but it usually starts in a group of lymph nodes in one part of the body, most often in the chest, neck or armpits.


What treatments are available for Hodgkin lymphoma?

Following a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma, you may want to know what treatments are available to treat your cancer. There are many different therapies available to treat Hodgkin lymphoma. This type of cancer can be treated using therapies such as chemotherapy or radiation, or your doctor might consider stem cell transplant or targeted therapy such as immunotherapy as options to treat Hodgkin lymphoma that is refractory (doesn’t respond to initial treatment) or relapses (comes back after initial treatment). It can also be used as additional treatment after stem cell transplant when the cancer is at high risk of relapsing or progressing, or for previously untreated stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma, in combination with other treatments.







Stem cell transplant

Stem cell transplant


Targeted therapy, such as immunotherapy

Targeted therapy, such as immunotherapy

Several immunotherapies have been developed to treat Hodgkin lymphoma: some target CD30, a tumour necrosis factor receptor present on the surface of the cancer cells, and then release a toxic drug inside the cells to kill them. Others target the PD-1 immune checkpoint system in your body to block the activity of specific checkpoint proteins which, in turn, helps to reactivate your immune system to attack cancer cells.
Immunotherapy has been shown to be effective at treating Hodgkin lymphoma in a number of clinical trials. By looking at your health and specific information about your cancer, your doctor can suggest the treatment option that is best for you.
Cancer immunotherapy can be used for treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma when the cancer has relapsed or spread after stem cell transplant or treatment with chemotherapy, following a stem cell transplant for patients with a high risk of relapse or progression, or for untreated patients with Stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma.
As with all medications, immunotherapy can lead to unwanted side effects. Immunotherapy has been proven to be effective at locating and attacking cancer cells—but it can also damage normal cells. Which side effects you experience, as well as their severity, depend on many factors, such as your overall health and which medication is selected for you.
Some of the very common side effects of these immunotherapies include:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • rash
  • fatigue
  • decreased appetite
  • fever
  • joint/muscle pain
  • shortness of breath/cough
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • hair loss
  • swelling in limbs
  • difficulty sleeping
  • abnormal blood test results

They can also cause some serious and potentially life-threatening side effects such as: inflammation of the lungs/brain/heart muscle/pancreas/skin/pituitary or thyroid glands, decreased number of red blood cells (autoimmune hemolytic anemia), infections including the brain, and stomach or intestine problems. These side effects are most likely to begin during treatment; however, side effects can show up months after your last infusion.
You should mention any new or unusual symptoms you experience to your doctor right away. They will try to find ways to help you reduce or manage your side effects to get you through your treatment as comfortably as possible.

The right treatment for your Hodgkin lymphoma

If you have been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, the next step is to work with your doctor to make decisions about your treatment. It is important to ask your doctor questions about which treatments are right for you, to ensure you will achieve the best possible treatment outcomes.

How common is Hodgkin lymphoma?

In 2020, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated that 1,000 Canadians would be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and that 100 Canadians would die from the disease.

If you would like more information about Hodgkin lymphoma and treatment options, speak with your doctor.