If treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma stops working
Because lymphoma is a group of diseases, the chance of it growing or coming back after treatment varies among types. When lymphomas come back, they tend to do so in the same part of the body they started in. For instance, if the lymphoma began in lymph nodes in the belly, this is the most likely place it will recur. If the bone marrow was affected, it will most likely return there. In many cases, the lymphoma will respond to new kinds of chemotherapy (chemo) or other drugs.
For general information on dealing with a recurrence, see our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.
But when a person has had many different treatments and the cancer has not been cured, over time the cancer tends to resist all treatment. At this time you may have to weigh the possible benefits of a new treatment against the downsides, like treatment side effects and clinic visits. Everyone has their own way of looking at this.
This is likely to be the hardest time in your battle with cancer – when you have tried everything within reason and it's just not working anymore. Your doctor may offer you new treatment, but you will need to talk about how likely the treatment is to improve your health or change your outlook for survival.
No matter what you decide to do, it is important for you to feel as good as possible. Make sure you are asking for and getting treatment for pain, nausea, or any other problems you may have. This type of treatment is called palliative care. Palliative care helps relieve symptoms, but it is not expected to cure the disease. It can be given along with cancer treatment, or can even be cancer treatment. The difference is its purpose. The main purpose of palliative care is to improve the quality of your life, or to help you feel as good as you can for as long as you can. Sometimes this means using drugs to help with symptoms like pain or nausea. Sometimes, though, the treatments used to control your symptoms are the same as those used to treat cancer. For instance, radiation might be used to help relieve bone pain caused by cancer that has spread to the bones. Or chemo might be used to help shrink a tumor and keep it from blocking the bowels. But this is not the same as treatment to try to cure the cancer. You can learn more about physical and emotional changes, as well as plans and preparations for yourself and your family, in our document Nearing the End of Life.
At some point you may want to think about hospice care. Most of the time it is given at home. Your cancer may be causing symptoms or problems that need to be treated. Hospice focuses on your comfort. You should know that having hospice care doesn't mean you can't have treatment for the problems caused by your cancer or other health issues. It just means that the purpose of your care is to help you live life as fully as possible and to feel as well as you can. You can learn more about this in our document, Hospice Care.
Last Medical Review: 08/27/2014
Last Revised: 01/06/2015