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. Treatment 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, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals. For more information, see Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Understanding the Health Care System.

After lymphoma is diagnosed and tests have been done to determine its stage, your child’s cancer care team will discuss the treatment options with you. The most important factors in choosing a treatment include the type and stage of the cancer, although other factors can also play a role. The intensive treatment for childhood lymphoma can possibly cause serious side effects. It’s important to discuss all of the options as well as their possible side effects with your child’s doctors so you can make an informed decision. (For a list of some questions to ask, see the What Should You Ask Your Child’s Doctor About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?)

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.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your 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 you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your 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 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 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, support groups, 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 on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The next few sections describe the types of treatments used for NHL in children. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches used based on the type and stage (extent) of the lymphoma.

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 cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your 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.