Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma or you’re nearing the end of your treatment regimen, you may have questions about “remission” and “relapse.” Remission is a term that refers to the absence of disease. Relapse, on the other hand, is a term that means the disease has reappeared again after a period of remission.
According to the American Cancer Society, survival rates for Hodgkin’s lymphoma have improved in recent years thanks to advances in treatment. The five year survival rate is currently about 86 percent. That’s a higher rate than many other cancers. However, relapse is still possible.
Your doctor is always the best source of information regarding your Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment and outlook. You can use the following six facts about remission and relapse as a springboard to start the discussion.
1. “Remission” doesn’t mean “cured”
There still isn’t a cure for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Being in remission means that the disease is no longer present or detectable. It’s common for people to feel relieved when they’re told they’re in remission. At the same time, it’s important to remember to stay diligent about medical appointments and tests.
People in remission for Hodgkin’s lymphoma generally need to see their doctor every three to six months for follow-up examinations. This may include blood tests and PET or CT scans.
If several years pass without any signs of relapse you can gradually decrease the frequency of your visits. After 10 years in remission, you should still meet with your oncologist at least once a year to check in and monitor the progress of your recovery.
2. Side effects from treatment are possible in remission
Even when you’re in remission, it’s possible that you may still experience ongoing or new side effects from your Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment. In some cases these side effects may not appear for years after your course of treatment has ended.
Side effects can include fertility problems, increased susceptibility to infection, thyroid issues, lung damage, and even additional forms of cancer.
If you notice any new or unusual symptoms, even if you’ve been diagnosed as cancer-free, it’s important to report them to your doctor as soon as possible.
3. Hodgkin’s lymphoma increases the risk of a second cancer
People who have experienced Hodgkin’s lymphoma have a higher-than-average chance of developing a second type of cancer later in life. That’s true even if you’re in remission. That’s why it’s so important to continue monitoring your health by staying up-to-date with your doctor’s appointments.
Treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually includes chemotherapy and radiation. Both treatments increase the risk for certain types of cancer. These include leukemia, breast cancer, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, and bone cancer.
Seeing your oncologist annually, and undergoing any recommended testing, may help catch any signs of cancer. The sooner a second cancer is detected, the better the chances that it can be treated successfully.
4. “Induction failure” is different from relapse
The term relapse is often used in a general sense, but there are actually two distinct categories when it comes to Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The term “induction failure” is used to describe what occurs when people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma have undergone a full course of chemotherapy treatment, but who don’t see a complete disappearance or remission of their cancer.
The term “relapse” is used when people who have finished treatment are in full remission, but then later experience a recurrence of the cancer.
Follow-up strategies may be different for these two situations. Talking to your doctor about your post-treatment diagnosis can help you get a better understanding of your recovery path.
5. There are treatment options for relapse
If you experience a relapse, meaning the Hodgkin’s lymphoma has returned, there are viable treatment options available. Treatment for relapsed Hodgkin’s lymphoma varies depending on several factors, including age, medical history, and the scope of the disease.
The typical treatment response to a relapse is to begin second-line chemotherapy. The next step is often a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. The goal of treating a relapse is for you to be in remission, just as it’s the goal after an initial diagnosis.
Your doctor will be able to give you more information about the course of treatment that best suits your medical needs.
6. You can take measures to lower your risk of relapse
If you’re in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there are a variety of steps you can take to reduce your risk of relapse.
First, aim to live a healthy lifestyle through eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. A nutritious diet should include 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, along with a balance of carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Nuts, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil are good sources of healthy fats. Do your best to avoid saturated fats and trans fats whenever possible. It’s also smart to limit your intake of sugar and sodium. Maintaining a healthy weight also reduces your risk of relapse.
Although your treatment may make it difficult for you to keep up a regular exercise routine, try to make an effort to stay active. Even simple activities add up, such as going for a walk around the neighborhood or opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator.
If you’re a smoker, set a goal to quit as soon as possible. Using tobacco products significantly increases the risk of developing a number of cancers, including several of the secondary cancers mentioned above.
No matter what stage you’re at in your Hodgkin’s lymphoma recovery, it’s never too soon to start educating yourself about the condition and what you should expect following treatment. Your doctor can provide more information about your outlook after treatment and how to reduce your risk of relapse.