Targeted cancer drugs for Hodgkin lymphoma

Targeted cancer drugs change the way that cells work and help the body control the growth of cancer. Other targeted drugs help the body's immune system to attack the cancer. So some of these drugs are also called immunotherapies.

You might also hear some targeted drugs called biological therapies.

When you might have targeted drug treatments

Monoclonal antibodies (MABs) are the most common type of targeted drug used for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Brentuximab and rituximab are a type of monoclonal antibody. They target specific proteins on lymphoma cells and help the immune system to pick out these cells and kill them. Because of the way they work they are sometimes called a targeted immunotherapy drug.


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


You might have rituximab if you have advanced nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL). 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.


The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) have approved the drug pembrolizumab as a treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma that has come back after treatment or is not responding to treatment. It is approved in people aged 3 years and above.  

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) are expected to make a decision about pembrolizumab in February 2022 for the rest of the UK. 

How you have it

Most of the targeted therapy 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

A common side effect of some MABs is an allergic reaction to the drug. This reaction is most likely to happen during treatment and when you first have the treatment. You might have some drugs before treatment to try to prevent a reaction..

Your medical team will talk through possible side effects. They will explain when you should contact them.

When you go home

Treatment with targeted drugs can be difficult to cope with for some people. Your nurse will give you a number to call (advice line) if you have any problems at home.

Contact your advice line if you have side effects or any concerns.

Clinical trials

You might have targeted 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 it works well. But it will be some time before we know exactly how helpful it is.

Last reviewed: 
09 Oct 2020
Next review due: 
09 Oct 2023
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    Catherine Lai and others 

    Blood and Lymphatic Cancer: Targets and Therapy, 2019: 9 63–71

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium
    Accessed 2020

  • Novel therapy for Hodgkin lymphoma
    CL Batlevi and A Younes, 2013
    ASH Hematology - The Education Programme, 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

  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) is accepted for restricted use within NHS Scotland
    Accessed November 2021

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