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Biological therapy for Hodgkin lymphoma

Biological therapies are drugs that change the way that cells work and help the body control the growth of cancer.

Some seek out and destroy cancer cells. Others help the body to attack the cancer.

When you have them

Brentuximab

The biological therapy Brentuximab is sometimes used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma that has come back after treatment or when previous treatments have not worked.

This drug is currently under review by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for NHS use in England. In the meantime, doctors can get it through the Cancer Drugs Fund. It is available on the NHS in Wales and Scotland.

Rituximab

You might have the biological therapy Rituximab if you have advanced lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma. This is a rare type of Hodgkin lymphoma.

You usually have rituximab with chemotherapy. You might have this combination of treatment when you are first diagnosed, or if the lymphoma doesn't respond to chemotherapy or has come back.

Brentuximab and rituximab are monoclonal antibodies. They attach to particular proteins (receptors) on lymphoma cells and stop the cells from dividing and growing.

How you have it

Most of the biological drugs for Hodgkin lymphoma are drips that you have into your bloodstream (intravenously). Your treatment team will tell you how often and when you have them.

Side effects

The side effects depend on the type of drug you have. Common side effects include:

  • allergic reaction
  • flu - like symptoms including fever, muscle aches and sickness
  • diarrhoea
  • skin rashes
  • tiredness

When you go home

Treatment with biological therapies can be difficult to cope with. Your nurse will give you numbers to call if you have any problems at home.

Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects you have.

Clinical trials

You might have biological therapy treatment as part of a clinical trial for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Researchers are looking at using rituximab as a first treatment for lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma. Early studies seem to show that is works well. But it will be some time before we know exactly how helpful it is.

Last reviewed: 
30 Dec 2015
  • Brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris®) 50 mg powder for concentrate for solution for infusion

    All Wales Medicine Strategy Group, 2015

  • Brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris®) 50mg powder for concentrate for solution for infusion

    Scottish Medicines Consortium, 2014

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium

    Accessed 2014

  • Novel therapy for Hodgkin lymphoma

    CL Batlevi and A Younes, 2013

    ASH Hematology - The Eduction Programm,, Volume 2013, Issue 1

  • The emerging role for rituximab in the treatment of nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma

    LS Maeda and RH Advani, 2009

    Current Opinion in Oncology, Volume 21, Issue 9

  • Guidelines for the investigation and management of nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma
    P McKay, P Fielding, E Gallop-Evans and others
    British Journal of Haematology, 2016, Volume 172

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