How Doctors Treat Children With Lymphoma
- The first step in treatment is to find out where the cancer is in the child’s body, called the stage
- Treatment usually starts soon after doctors determine the stage because lymphoma in children tends to be aggressive
- Kids with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are often treated with a combination of chemotherapy drugs, plus an antibody drug
“The staging process may be a little bit different between pediatrics and adults, but they’re very similar,” Dr. Matthew Barth, pediatric oncologist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet.
Finding the StageRead More
Your child’s doctor will use the combined results of these tests to create a treatment plan.
On to Treatment
“Once we have the patient fully staged, we try to get into the treatment pretty quickly, just because most of these lymphomas in pediatrics tend to be very aggressive forms,” Dr. Barth says. “We need to start treatment a little bit more urgently.”
Kids with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas will usually be treated with the antibody drug, rituximab (Rituxan). It targets a protein called CD20 on the surface of the cancer cells. They will also get several different chemotherapy drugs over a period of time. The total number of drugs they get and the doses depend on the type and stage of their cancer.
Chemotherapy is an ideal treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which spreads throughout the body, because it travels through the bloodstream and kills cancer cells wherever they are. Yet chemotherapy is also an intense treatment. It damages healthy cells along with the cancer, which can cause side effects such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and bruising or bleeding.
Some side effects are more serious. Because chemo damages infection-fighting blood cells, it can increase a child’s risk for infections, some of which can be life threatening. Another possible side effect is mouth sores, which can prevent a child from eating or drinking.
Because of these risks, chemotherapy is generally given while children are in the hospital, so they can be closely monitored and promptly treated if they do develop side effects. “Patients generally stay in the hospital, sometimes for up to two to three weeks, until they recover.” Dr. Barth tells SurvivorNet.
Doctors give chemotherapy in cycles. Depending on the child’s stage and how many of their organs the cancer affects, the number of cycles can range from two to six, he says. Once they recover from the first cycle, they’ll go home from the hospital. Then they can start on the next round of chemo. “Patients generally can expect similar side effects with each cycle of chemotherapy,” Dr. Barth adds.