Hodgkin Disease

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Treating Hodgkin Disease TOPICS

Treating classic Hodgkin disease, by stage

This section sums up the treatment options for Hodgkin disease (HD) in adults, based on the stage of cancer. Treatment of the disease in children is slightly different from the treatment used for adults. Some of the differences in treating adults and children are discussed in the section, “Hodgkin disease in children.” If a teen has achieved full growth, the treatment is usually the same as that for an adult.

Treatment options depend on many factors, including:

  • The kind of Hodgkin disease you have
  • The extent of the Hodgkin disease in your body
  • Whether or not the disease is bulky (large)
  • Whether the Hodgkin disease is causing certain symptoms
  • Results of blood and other lab tests
  • Your general health
  • Your age
  • Your medical history

Based on these factors, your treatment may be a little different from the general outline given below.

Stages IA and IIA, favorable

This group includes HD that is only on one side of the diaphragm (above or below) and that doesn’t have any unfavorable factors. For example:

  • It is not bulky
  • It is not in several different lymph node areas
  • It doesn’t cause any of the B symptoms
  • It doesn’t cause an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

Treatment for most patients is chemotherapy (usually 2 to 4 cycles of the ABVD regimen or 8 weeks of the Stanford V regimen), followed by involved field radiation to the initial site of the disease. Another option is chemotherapy alone (usually for 4 or 6 cycles) in selected patients.

Doctors often order a PET/CT scan after a few courses of chemo to see how well the treatment is working and to determine how much more treatment (if any) is needed.

If a person can’t tolerate chemotherapy because of other health issues, radiation therapy alone may be an option.

For those who don’t respond to treatment, chemotherapy using different drugs or high-dose chemotherapy (and possibly radiation) followed by a stem cell transplant may be recommended. Treatment with the monoclonal antibody brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris) may be another option.

Stages I and II, unfavorable

This group includes HD that is only on one side of the diaphragm (above or below), but that is bulky, is in several different areas, is causing any of the B symptoms, and/or is causing an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR).

Treatment is generally more intense than that for favorable disease. It typically starts with chemotherapy (usually ABVD for 4 to 6 cycles or other regimens such as Stanford V for 12 weeks).

PET/CT scans are often done after several cycles of chemo to determine how much more treatment you need. This is often followed by more chemo. Involved-field radiation therapy is typically given to the sites of the tumor at this point, especially if it was bulky.

For those who don’t respond to treatment, chemotherapy using different drugs or high-dose chemotherapy (and possibly radiation) followed by a stem cell transplant may be recommended. Treatment with the monoclonal antibody brentuximab vedotin may be another option.

Stages III and IV

This includes HD that is both above and below the diaphragm and/or has spread widely through one or more organs outside the lymph system.

Doctors generally treat these stages with chemotherapy at full doses. Although ABVD (for at least 6 cycles) can be used, some doctors favor more intense treatment with the Stanford V regimen for 12 weeks, or even the BEACOPP regimen if there are several unfavorable prognostic factors.

PET/CT scans might be used during or after chemotherapy to assess how much more treatment you need. Depending on the results of the scans, more chemotherapy may be given. Radiation therapy may be given after chemotherapy, especially if there were any large tumor areas.

For those who don’t respond to treatment, chemotherapy using different drugs or high-dose chemotherapy (and possibly radiation) followed by a stem cell transplant may be recommended. Treatment with the monoclonal antibody brentuximab vedotin may be another option.

Resistant Hodgkin disease

Treatment for HD should remove all traces of the cancer. Once initial treatment is complete, the doctor will do tests such as PET and CT scans to look for any signs of HD. If the HD is still there, most experts think that more of the same treatment is unlikely to cure it.

Sometimes, radiation therapy to an area of disease that remains after chemotherapy might be curative. Using a different combination of chemotherapy drugs may be another option. If radiation alone was the initial treatment, using chemotherapy (with or without more radiation) might also be curative.

If HD is still there after a combination of these treatments, most doctors would recommend high-dose chemotherapy (and possibly radiation) followed by an autologous stem cell transplant, if it can be done. If cancer still remains after this, an allogeneic stem cell transplant may be an option.

Another option, either instead of or after a stem cell transplant, may be treatment with the monoclonal antibody brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris).

Recurrent or relapsed Hodgkin disease

Treatment in this situation depends on where the disease comes back, on how long it has been since your initial treatment, and on what your initial treatment was. If the initial treatment was radiation therapy alone, chemotherapy is usually given for recurrent disease.

If chemotherapy without radiation therapy was used first, and the cancer comes back only in the lymph nodes, the patient could receive radiation therapy to the lymph nodes with or without more chemotherapy. Chemotherapy with different drugs may be another option.

Radiation usually cannot be repeated in the same area. If, for example, HD in the chest was treated with radiation and it comes back in the chest, it could not be treated with more radiation to the chest. This holds true no matter how long ago the radiation was first given.

If the disease returns after several years, then using the same or different chemotherapy drugs (possibly along with radiation) might still cure it. On the other hand, patients whose cancer recurs soon after treatment may need more intensive treatment. For example, if the HD has returned within a few months of the original treatment, high-dose chemotherapy (and possibly radiation) followed by an autologous stem cell transplant may be recommended. These are decisions that you and your cancer care team need to make.

If the cancer still remains after an autologous transplant, an allogeneic stem cell transplant may be an option. Another option, either instead of or after a stem cell transplant, may be treatment with the monoclonal antibody brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris).


Last Medical Review: 12/10/2012
Last Revised: 02/07/2014