Diffuse large B cell lymphoma

Diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

NHL is a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes Open a glossary item . It is a cancer of the lymphatic system Open a glossary item . 

DLBCL is fast growing (high grade). You have treatment soon after diagnosis. Treatment usually includes chemotherapy Open a glossary item together with a targeted drug Open a glossary item called rituximab. Doctors call this chemoimmunotherapy.

This page is about DLBCL in adults. 

What is diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL?

DLBCL is a common type of fast growing (high grade) NHL.

Lymphoma develops when white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control. They move around your body in your blood and your lymphatic system. 

The lymphatic system is an important part of our immune system. It has tubes that branch through all parts of the body.

These tubes are called lymph vessels or lymphatic vessels and they carry a straw coloured liquid called lymph. This liquid circulates around the body tissues. It contains a high number of white blood cells (lymphocytes) which fight infection.

Diagram of the lymphatic system

There are two types of lymphocytes: T lymphocytes (T cells) and B lymphocytes (B cells). 

DLBCL develops when the body makes abnormal B lymphocytes. So it is a type of B cell lymphoma. The abnormal lymphocytes build up in the lymph nodes Open a glossary item or other body organs. They don't work properly. So they can't fight infection as normal white blood cells do.

As the name suggests, diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) means this type of lymphoma has:

  • abnormal B cells that are larger than normal healthy B cells
  • cancer cells in a spread out (diffuse) pattern rather than being grouped together

How common is it?

Each year about 5,000 people are diagnosed with DLBCL in the UK. This makes up more than 40 out of 100 cases (40%) of NHL in adults.

DLBCL is more common in males than females.

Types of diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL)

Most people do not have a specific type of DLBCL. This is called DLBCL not otherwise specified (DLBCL NOS).

There are also some quite rare sub types of DLBCL. The treatment for most subtypes is similar. 

These rare types include:

  • T-cell/histiocyte-rich large B-cell lymphoma   
  • Epstein Barr virus positive DLBCL 
  • ALK positive large B cell lymphoma
  • primary mediastinal (thymic) large B cell lymphoma
  • intravascular large B cell lymphoma

We have a separate information page about DLBCL that starts in the brain (primary CNS lymphoma).


Symptoms can start or get worse in just a few weeks.

Painless swellings

The most common symptom is one or more painless swellings in the:

  • neck
  • armpit
  • groin

These swellings are enlarged lymph nodes. They can grow very quickly.

General symptoms (B symptoms)

You might have other general symptoms such as:

  • heavy sweating at night
  • high temperatures that come and go with no obvious cause
  • losing a lot of weight (more than one tenth of your total weight)

Doctors call this group of symptoms B symptoms. Some people may also have unexplained itching. It is important to tell your doctor about any symptoms like this.

Other symptoms

DLBCL can develop outside the lymph nodes. The symptoms you have depend on where it grows. For example, DLBCL growing in your:

  • tummy (abdomen) or bowel might cause pain, diarrhoea or bleeding 
  • chest might cause breathlessness or a cough

See your GP if you have these symptoms.

Getting diagnosed

The main test to diagnose lymphoma is a lymph node biopsy Open a glossary item.  A doctor removes part or all of the swollen lymph node. They send it to the laboratory for a specialist to look at it under a microscope. 

You might also have some blood tests.

If your doctor diagnoses lymphoma, you might have further tests. These might include:

  • a PET-CT scan Open a glossary item
  • a bone marrow test Open a glossary item to check if you have lymphoma cells in your bone marrow
  • an MRI scan Open a glossary item to look at your head or spine
  • a lumbar puncture Open a glossary item to check for lymphoma cells in the fluid around your brain and spinal cord

Stages and grades of diffuse large B cell lymphoma


Grade describes how the cells look under a microscope. Your grade tells the doctor how quickly the lymphoma is likely to grow and spread. Doctors put NHL into 2 grades:

  • low grade (slow growing)
  • high grade (fast growing)

DLBCL is fast growing and doctors call it a high grade lymphoma.


You have tests to find out the number of places in your body affected by lymphoma, and where these are. This is your stage. Doctors use your stage to plan your treatment.

Doctors use different systems to describe your stage. There are different staging systems for adults and children with DLBCL.  There are 4 main stages of NHL (stage 1 to stage 4). Or your doctors might talk about early (limited) stage and advanced stage lymphoma. 

Early stage usually means either stage 1 or stage 2 lymphoma. Advanced stage usually means either stage 3 or stage 4 lymphoma. 

If your child has DLBCL, ask your specialist to explain what the stage means. 

Your risk of DLBCL coming back (outlook)

The best person to talk to about your prognosis or outlook is your specialist. 

Your doctor might use test results to give you a prognostic score. The score is based on several factors. This helps doctors to talk to you about your prognosis. And to predict how you might respond to treatment. They call it the International Prognostic Index (IPI). They look at the following factors:

  • your age
  • how lymphoma affects your well being, also known as performance status
  • the level of an enzyme called lactose dehydrogenase (LDH) in your blood
  • whether your lymphoma is outside the lymph nodes (extranodal disease)
  • the stage of your lymphoma

These factors score points to give an overall score. This score helps your doctors work out whether your lymphoma is low, intermediate (medium), or high risk. This helps your team to plan the best treatment for you. 

Treatment for diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL)

The aim of treatment for DLBCL might be to:

  • cure the lymphoma
  • control the lymphoma for as long as possible
  • control symptoms
  • stop lymphoma spreading to other parts of the body (such as the cerebrospinal fluid)
  • stop lymphoma coming back

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you want to find out more about the aim of your treatment. 

As DLBCL is fast growing (high grade) you have treatment soon after diagnosis. If there is no sign of lymphoma following treatment, this is called remission. Sometimes, lymphoma can come back (relapse). You would usually then have more treatment.

Treatment decisions

Your treatment depends on:

  • where your lymphoma is (the stage)
  • your symptoms
  • your general health
  • levels of some chemicals in your blood
  • whether your lymphoma is likely to come back after treatment

The main treatments

The main treatment options for DLBCL are:

  • chemotherapy Open a glossary item combined with steroids Open a glossary item and a targeted cancer drug Open a glossary item - doctors call this chemoimmunotherapy
  • radiotherapy Open a glossary item
  • chemotherapy to stop lymphoma spreading to your brain

You have the chemoimmunotherapy drugs on certain days. This is usually over 3 weeks. Each 3 week period is called a cycle of treatment. How many cycles you have depends on your situation.

After treatment, NHL sometimes doesn't go away or comes back. Your specialist might suggest other types of treatment in this situation including:

  • stem cell transplant Open a glossary item
  • CAR-T cell therapy
  • targeted cancer drugs on their own, or together with chemotherapy

Early stage lymphoma (stage 1 and 2)

You usually have chemoimmunotherapy. You have it on its own, or combined with radiotherapy. 

You might have one of the following:

  • 4 cycles of R-CHOP - your doctor might recommend radiotherapy afterwards
  • 6 cycles of R-CHOP

R-CHOP is one of the main chemoimmunotherapy combinations. It includes the drugs rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin hydrochloride, vincristine and prednisolone. 

Advanced stage lymphoma (stage 3 and 4)

You usually have chemoimmunotherapy. You might have one of the following:

  • 6 cycles of Pola-R-CHP  (rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin hydrochloride, prednisolone and polatuzumab vedotin)
  • 6 cycles of R-CHOP (rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin hydrochloride, vincristine and prednisolone)

If you have high risk lymphoma

Your doctor looks at your test results to work out your prognostic score. They use this score to work out if you have a low, intermediate (medium), or high risk of the lymphoma coming back after treatment. This helps the doctor plan your treatment.

You might have more intensive treatment if you have a high risk of your lymphoma coming back. 

You might have:

  • R-CODOX-M (rituximab, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin and methotrexate)
  • followed by R-IVAC (rituximab, ifosfamide, etoposide and cytarabine)

If you are older or less fit

You may have a less intensive treatment combination if you are older, or less fit and well. These might exclude certain drugs or have lower doses of drugs to reduce the side effects. For example, R-mini-CHOP.

Chemotherapy to stop spread to your spine or brain

Lymphoma can spread to your central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is your brain and spinal cord. Some types DLBCL are more likely to spread to the CNS than others. If you have a high risk, your doctor might want you to have treatment to prevent this. 

You might have treatment to prevent CNS spread if your lymphoma is:

  • in your breast, testicles, adrenal gland, kidney or blood vessels (intravascular lymphoma)
  • likely to come back after treatment (high risk)

You might have a high dose of a chemotherapy drug called methotrexate. You have this into your vein (intravenously).

Occasionally, your doctor might suggest injections of  methotrexate into the fluid around your spinal cord. This is called intrathecal chemotherapy Open a glossary item. It is very similar to having a lumbar puncture.

Treatment when lymphoma doesn't go away or comes back

Lymphoma that does not go away with treatment is called refractory lymphoma. Lymphoma that comes back after treatment is called relapsed disease. You might have:

  • chemoimmunotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant Open a glossary item
  • CAR-T cell therapy 
  • chemoimmunotherapy on its own
  • a targeted cancer drug treatment
  • radiotherapy

Your treatment plan will depend on what treatment you have already had, and how well you are.

Stem cell transplant

A stem cell transplant allows you to have very high doses of chemotherapy. You can have a transplant using:

  • your own stem cells (autologous stem cell transplant)
  • a donor’s stem cells (allogeneic stem cell transplant)

Most people have an autologous stem cell transplant. It is less common for people with DLBCL to have an allogeneic stem cell transplant.

CAR-T cell therapy 

For CAR-T cell therapy a specialist collects and makes a small change to your T cell Open a glossary items. After a few weeks, you have a drip containing these cells back into your bloodstream. The CAR T-cells then recognise and attack the cancer cells. 

You might have it if your lymphoma has continued to grow or relapsed following at least 2 treatments. You need to be well enough for this treatment.

Other treatments

Other treatments you might have include the following drugs:

  • glofitamab
  • epcoritamab
  • loncastuximab tesirine 

If you aren't well enough for these treatments, you might have chemoimmunotherapy. You might have polatuzumab vedotin together with bendamustine (chemotherapy) and rituximab. 

You might also have radiotherapy to help control symptoms caused by your lymphoma.

Treating and preventing problems caused by lymphoma

Lymphoma and its treatment can cause problems. Supportive treatments can help to either prevent or control these problems.  

Supportive treatments you might need include:

  • medicines to prevent bacterial or viral infections
  • injections to boost your immune system (GCSF)

Follow up

You usually have a PET-CT scan Open a glossary item when you finish treatment. This is to see how well the treatment has worked. The doctors are checking that there are no signs of lymphoma in your body. They call this remission Open a glossary item

You have regular follow up appointments after finishing treatment. These are appointments to check how you are. And to check there are no signs of the lymphoma coming back. Your appointments might be every 3 to 4 months for at least 2 years. 

Your doctor will examine you and ask about any symptoms or side effects. You usually have blood tests. You don't usually have scans unless you have symptoms that are causing a problem.

You can ask any questions at these appointments. Contact your health care team between appointments if you have any symptoms or concerns. You don't need to wait for a booked appointment.

After 2 years, your lymphoma specialist might transfer your care to your GP (family doctor). This is because the risk of your disease coming back after 2 years is small. Talk to your GP if you have any symptoms or concerns. The GP can then contact a specialist again if they need to.


Researchers around the world are looking at the treatments for NHL. Your doctor might suggest you take part in a clinical trial. 

Coping with DLBCL

DLBCL and treatment is likely to cause physical changes in your body. The treatment can be very intense. You might be in and out of hospital for at least a few months. These changes can be hard to cope with and can affect the way you feel about yourself.

You might also have to cope with feeling very tired and lethargic a lot of the time, especially for a while after treatment.

Ask your medical team about possible support and help.

It can help to talk to friends and family. Or join a support group to meet people in a similar situation.

Our discussion forum Cancer Chat is a place for anyone affected by cancer. You can share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.

You might need practical advice about benefits or financial help. There is help and support available.

  • Haematological Malignancy Research Network (HMRN) - Incidence statistics
    Accessed February 2024
    (The incidence statistics are estimates)

  • The management of newly diagnosed large B-cell lymphoma: A British Society for Haematology Guideline
    C Fox and others
    British Journal of Haematology, 2024.
    Accessed March 2024

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL): ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    H Tilly and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2015. Volume 26, Supplement 5, pages 116–v125

  • The prevention of central nervous system relapse in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: a British Society for Haematology good practice paper
    Pamela McKay and others 
    British Journal of Haematology 2020. Volume 190, Issue 5, Pages 708-714

  • Guidelines for the management of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
    S Chaganti and others
    British Journal of Haematology 2016. Volume 174, Issue 1, Pages 43 - 56


  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
    J Armitage and others.
    The Lancet 2017. Volume 390, Issue 10091, Pages 298–310

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.


Last reviewed: 
08 Mar 2024
Next review due: 
08 Mar 2027

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