Treating Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children

General treatment information

Children and teens with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and their families have special needs. These needs can be met best by cancer centers for children and teens, working closely with the child’s primary care doctor. Being treated in these centers gives you the advantage of having teams of specialists who know the differences between cancers in adults and those in children and teens, as well as the unique needs of younger people with cancer.

For childhood lymphomas, this team is typically led by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat children’s cancers. Many other specialists may be involved in your child’s care as well, including other doctors, physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals. For more information, see Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Understanding the Health Care System.

Once lymphoma has been diagnosed and tests have been done to determine its stage, your child’s cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. The most important factors in choosing a treatment include the type and stage of the lymphoma, although other factors, such as where the lymphoma is in the body, can also play a role.

Which treatments are used for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children

Chemotherapy (sometimes along with other drugs) is the main treatment for all children with NHL, because it can reach all parts of the body and kill lymphoma cells wherever they may be. Even if the lymphoma appears to be limited to a single swollen lymph node, NHL in a child has often spread by the time it is diagnosed. Lymphoma cells are probably in other organs, but these are too small to be felt by the doctor or seen on imaging tests.

Sometimes high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant might be needed if the lymphoma comes back after treatment.

Other types of treatment, such as surgery and radiation, play a much smaller role in treating childhood lymphoma.

To learn more about the most common treatment approaches for NHL, see Treatment of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children, by Type and Stage.

Making treatment decisions

Intensive treatment for childhood lymphoma is often very effective, but it can possibly cause serious side effects. It’s important to discuss all of your options as well as their possible side effects with your child’s doctors so you can make an informed decision.

It's also very important to ask questions if you're not sure about something. You can find some good questions to ask in What Should You Ask Your Child’s Doctor About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Today, most children with cancer are treated at specialized children’s cancer centers. These centers offer the most up-to-date-treatment by conducting clinical trials (studies of promising new therapies). Children’s cancer centers often conduct many clinical trials at any one time, and in fact most children treated at these centers take part in a clinical trial as part of their treatment.

Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the- art cancer care for your child. They may be the only way to get access to some newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they might not be right for every child. Talk to your child’s cancer care team to learn about possible clinical trials for your child, and ask about the pros and cons of enrolling in one of them.

If your child qualifies for a clinical trial, it’s up to you whether to enter (enroll) your child into it. Older children, who can understand more, usually must also agree to take part in the clinical trial before the parents’ consent is accepted.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for your child, start by asking your child's doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. See Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your child's doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat the cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping your child feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your child's cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your child's cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your child's care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your child's cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your child's doctor. Your child's doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.