What’s New in Hodgkin Disease Research and Treatment?

Important research into Hodgkin disease is going on in many university hospitals, medical centers, and other institutions around the world. Scientists are getting closer to finding out what causes the disease and how to improve treatment.

Imaging tests

In recent years, PET/CT scans have been found to be very helpful in determining the extent of Hodgkin disease in the body and in assessing how well treatment is working. PET/CT scans are now commonly used early in the course of treatment to help doctors decide how much treatment needs to be given.

Tailoring treatment

In general, cure rates for Hodgkin disease are high, but long-term side effects of treatment are an important issue. A very active area of research is directed at learning which patients can be treated with gentler therapy and which patients need stronger treatment.

A related area of research is finding less-toxic treatments that do not have serious long-term side effects, yet still cure as many patients as possible. New chemotherapy (chemo) combinations of as many as 10 different drugs are being studied. The reasoning behind this approach is that even though more drugs are needed, using less of each drug might lead to fewer side effects. Another approach is using newer drugs that better target Hodgkin disease cells, as opposed to chemo drugs. Some of these are described below.

The same is true for radiation therapy. Doctors are looking to see which patients (especially children) might do just as well with lower doses of radiation, or even no radiation. Doctors are also studying whether newer forms of radiation therapy, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and proton therapy, might be useful for Hodgkin disease. These approaches focus radiation more precisely on tumors, which limits the doses reaching nearby normal tissues.


New chemo drugs and drug combinations are being studied in patients with Hodgkin disease. Some drugs, such as vinorelbine, idarubicin, bendamustine, and gemcitabine, are already used to treat other cancers, and have shown promise against Hodgkin disease that has relapsed after other chemo treatments. Studies are in progress to see if these drugs could be more effective than the ones now in use.

Targeted therapy

Newer drugs that work differently from standard chemo drugs are now being studied as well. These are known as targeted therapy drugs.

For example, drugs known as mTOR inhibitors (such as sirolimus, temsirolimus, and everolimus) have shown some promise in early clinical studies against relapsed Hodgkin disease. Drugs called histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, such as panobinostat and vorinostat, have also shown some early promise.

Other drugs being studied include lenalidomide (Revlimid®) and bortezomib (Velcade®). These drugs are more often used to treat multiple myeloma and some non-Hodgkin lymphomas, but they may prove to be useful in Hodgkin disease as well.

Some newer targeted drugs, such as PLX3397, might affect the other cells in Hodgkin disease tumors, rather than the cancer cells themselves. These other cells actually make up much of the Hodgkin disease tumors and are thought to help the cancer cells grow. Research on these types of drugs is still in early stages.

Monoclonal antibodies

Antibodies are proteins normally made by the immune system to help fight infections. Each antibody attacks only a specific target (usually a protein on the surface of an unwanted cell). Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are man-made versions of these immune system proteins. Some can kill cancer cells by themselves. Others have radioactive molecules or cell poisons attached to them, which help kill the cancer cells. An advantage of these drugs is that they seem to target lymphoma cells while having fewer side effects than standard chemo drugs. They may be used alone or combined with chemo.

Some mAbs, such as brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris) and rituximab (Rituxan), are already being used to treat Hodgkin disease in some situations (see Monoclonal Antibodies for Hodgkin Disease). Researchers are now looking to see if these drugs might be useful in other situations. For example, brentuximab is now being studied to see if it might be helpful earlier in the course of the disease. And studies are now being done to see if rituximab can help treat classic forms of Hodgkin disease as well as the nodular lymphocyte predominant type.

Many newer mAbs are now being studied as well.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: July 10, 2014 Last Revised: May 23, 2016

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