Hodgkin Disease Overview

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Treating Hodgkin Disease TOPICS

Chemotherapy for Hodgkin disease

Chemotherapy (chemo) refers to the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually the drugs are given into a vein or taken by mouth (as pills). Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body. Several drugs are given at the same time to treat Hodgkin disease.

Doctors give chemo in cycles. A round of treatment is followed by a rest period to give the body time to recover. Most of the time each chemo 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.

Side effects

Although the chemo kills cancer cells, the drugs also damage normal cells. This can lead to side effects. The exact side effects depend on the type and dose of drugs used and the length of time they are taken. Side effects could include the following:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased chance of infections (from low white blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
  • Extreme tiredness, called fatigue (from low red blood cell counts)

These side effects are usually short-term and go away after treatment ends. There are often ways to lessen these side effects. For example, drugs are usually given to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. If you or your child has side effects, talk to your cancer care team. They can suggest steps to ease them.

If white blood cell counts are very low during treatment, you can help reduce the risk of infection by trying to limit your contact with germs. During this time, your doctor may advise you to:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables and other foods that might carry germs.
  • Avoid fresh flowers and plants because they may carry mold.
  • Make sure other people wash their hands before they come in contact with you.
  • Avoid large crowds and people who are sick (wearing a surgical mask might offer some protection).

Long-term side effects: Some chemo drugs can have side effects that happen long after treatment has ended. These can affect a person’s heart, lungs, growth, and ability to have children. Some drugs also increase the risk of getting a second type of cancer, especially if chemo and radiation are given at the same time. It’s important to discuss these possible side effects with the doctor before treatment begins. Long-term effects are discussed in more detail in the section, “Moving on after treatment for Hodgkin disease.”


Last Medical Review: 02/05/2013
Last Revised: 02/07/2014