Hodgkin Disease Overview

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Treating Hodgkin Disease TOPICS

Chemotherapy for Hodgkin disease

Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. For Hodgkin disease, the drugs usually are given into a vein or taken by mouth (as pills). Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body. Several chemo drugs are given at the same time to treat Hodgkin disease. If you’d like to learn more about a drug being used in your (or your child’s) treatment, see our Guide to Cancer Drugs.

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 often, chemo is 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.

Short-term side effects: Some possible temporary side effects include:

  • 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)
  • Feeling very tired (from low red blood cell counts)

These side effects are usually don’t last long 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.

Infections can be very serious in people getting chemo. 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 tell 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.

Late or long-term side effects: Some chemo drugs can have side effects that can last a long time or that happen long after treatment has ended. These can affect things like 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 a person gets radiation as well. 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.”

To learn more about chemo, see the Chemotherapy section of our website, or our document A Guide to Chemotherapy.

Last Medical Review: 08/19/2014
Last Revised: 01/13/2015