1. What are the main side effects of chemotherapy? What options do people have for addressing these side effects?
Side effects of chemotherapy differ depending on the specific treatments you receive. In general, common side effects associated with chemotherapy treatment for classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma include fatigue, nausea, heart or lung issues, nerve pain or damage, constipation, and increased risk of infection.
Some treatment regimens for classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma can cause infertility. You’re also potentially at risk for secondary cancers or other lymphomas in the future.
You can discuss these potential side effects with your doctor. If you experience side effects, your treatment can potentially be modified to minimize the symptoms. There are also supportive medications or interventions that can be used to address some side effects, especially symptoms such as constipation, nausea, and nerve pain.
2. Do people usually need to take time off work if they’re receiving chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma? Does the amount of time they might need off vary by stage or progression of the cancer?
The amount of time off work a person needs depends on their specific symptoms and functional status, and the intensity of the treatment regimen. It’s common for people to take a leave of absence from work for at least part, if not the entire duration, of treatment. The recommended amount of time off varies depending on the extent of the disease and whether the lymphoma is responding to treatment.
Some people prefer to continue working throughout treatment. This is generally acceptable as long as they feel well enough. It’s also important that they do not experience significant infectious complications or other side effects that would compromise the lymphoma therapy or their ability to work.
3. Are there any complementary therapies, such as herbal supplements or massage, that help to ease the side effects of chemotherapy or other treatments?
In general, I advise people to avoid herbal supplements during chemotherapy because the interactions between supplements and the chemotherapy drugs aren’t well-studied or known.
Many herbal supplements have the potential to affect liver or kidney function. That’s an issue because your liver and kidneys are essential for the proper metabolism and clearance of chemotherapy medications from the body. As a result, taking herbal supplements could cause increased toxicity or side effects from chemotherapy. Some supplements may also decrease the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
When it comes to complementary therapies, massage is a good option. Massage can be an important part of your cancer care. It may be beneficial in relieving stress, pain, and muscle tension. There is no definitive evidence that lymphoma is spread or worsened by massage.
Treatments such as acupuncture that involve penetrating the skin or muscle with needles should generally be avoided during chemotherapy. This is because of the potential for increased risk of infection.
Be sure to check with your doctor prior to taking any new medications or supplements. You should also check in about any alternative therapies you’re considering.
4. Are there any foods or special diets that are especially helpful during chemotherapy?
In general, I recommend maintaining a healthy balanced diet during chemotherapy. It’s important to maintain adequate nutrition during treatment. Many institutions provide consultations with dietitians or nutritionists who are trained to work with people who have cancer.
People living with cancer often find multiple small meals consisting of light, bland foods are easier to tolerate. During chemotherapy, it’s important to avoid food poisoning. Don’t eat unpasteurized products. You should also avoid raw or undercooked meat, eggs, or seafood. All food should be prepared and cleaned well.
5. Is exercise important during chemotherapy? How much exercise is recommended during treatment?
Exercise is important during chemotherapy. It may help with chemotherapy-related fatigue, nausea, and depression. The recommended amount of exercise depends on your baseline fitness level, type of cancer, and type of treatment.
It’s best to discuss specific recommendations with your doctor. In general, exercise is encouraged in moderation. Listen to your body to figure out how much exercise you’re able to comfortably tolerate.
6. How can caregivers, loved ones, and friends best support people being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma? Do you have any tips for offering support and assistance?
Caregivers, loved ones, and friends are essential parts of the treatment team. They can play an important role in helping you through cancer treatment. Loved ones often assist with transportation to and from clinic visits. They may also provide companionship during long days of treatment.
It’s often helpful to have a support person accompany you to clinic visits. They can listen to recommendations and ask questions. If you’re not feeling well due to the lymphoma or treatment, it may be too overwhelming to retain everything that’s discussed during the visit.
7. Are support groups a helpful option while people are in treatment? What’s the best way to find one?
Many people find support groups helpful, but not everyone. The degree of benefit varies depending on your preferences and personality, cancer diagnosis, treatment regimen, and support system.
Many institutions or cancer centers have local support groups and meetings organized by cancer type. For lymphoma patients, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) is a useful resource. LSS provides information on research, support programs, and nationwide support groups.
Lauren Maeda is a board-certified medical oncologist/hematologist, specializing in the treatment of non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphomas. She maintains an active clinical practice in her role as clinical assistant professor at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, California.