Targeted therapies for lymphoma

Targeted therapy uses drugs to find and attack cancer cells. You may have this treatment on its own or with chemotherapy.

What are targeted therapies?

Targeted therapy drugs find and attack cancer cells. There are different types of targeted therapies.

Some drugs recognise and target specific proteins on cells. They also encourage the body’s immune system to attack and destroy lymphoma cells. Doctors also call these an immunotherapy treatment.

Targeted therapies and immunotherapies may be given alone or with chemotherapy. This is sometimes called chemoimmunotherapy.

Targeted therapies for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

The main targeted therapies used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) are rituximab and obinutuzumab. They are both monoclonal antibody drugs and a type of immunotherapy.

You may have them on their own. But it is more common to have them in combination with chemotherapy (chemoimmunotherapy).

If you have a rarer type of NHL, you may have other types of targeted therapy as part of your treatment.

New types of targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs are being developed. They may be used to treat lymphoma as part of a clinical trial.

Biosimilars

Newer CD20 drugs are becoming available. They work in the same way as rituximab and obinutuzumab. They are just as effective. These drugs are called biosimilars. Your doctor or nurse will explain if you are having one of these drugs.

Maintenance treatment

For some types of NHL, targeted therapy treatment continues after the lymphoma is in remission. The aim is to keep it in remission for as long as possible. This is called maintenance treatment.

You may have maintenance treatment for up to 2 years, or for as long as you need.

Targeted therapy drugs for mantle cell lymphoma

You may have a drug called bortezomib (Velcade®) to treat mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).

Ibrutinib (Imbruvica®) may also be used to treat MCL after other treatments have already been used.

Both drugs are a type of targeted therapy called a cancer growth inhibitor. We have more information about bortezomib and ibrutinib, including how they are given and possible side effects.

Targeted therapies for Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)

The most common targeted drug used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma is brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris®).

Brentuximab may be used to treat classical Hodgkin lymphoma. This is usually only when the lymphoma has not responded to treatment with chemotherapy or has come back. Some people with NLPHL Hodgkin lymphoma are given a drug called rituximab. But this is not common.

Both drugs are a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody. We have more information about brentuximab and rituximab including how the drugs are given and possible side effects.

Immunotherapy drugs for Hodgkin lymphoma

The immunotherapy drugs nivolumab (Opdivo®) or pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) may be used if classical Hodgkin lymphoma does not respond to chemotherapy, or if it comes back.

You may have these drugs as part of a clinical trial to treat Hodgkin lymphoma.

CAR T-cell therapy

CAR T-cell (or CAR-T) stands for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell. This immunotherapy can be used when the lymphoma is advanced and when other treatments have not worked well.

CAR-T therapy is complicated and can have serious side effects. It is only suitable for a very small number of people. Currently, it is only available in a few specialist hospitals.

We have more information about CAR T-cell therapy.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our lymphoma information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Blood and bone marrow cancers. NICE Pathways. Last accessed 3 December 2020.

    Hodgkin lymphoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up; European Society for Medical Oncology (2018).

    Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: diagnosis and management; NICE Guideline (July 2016).

    Newly Diagnosed and Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up; European Society for Medical Oncology (2020).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Rajnish Gupta, Macmillan Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.