Whether you’ve recently received a diagnosis of 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 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 5-year survival rate is currently about 87 percent. That’s a higher rate than many other cancers. However, relapse is still possible.

While 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.

Remission means that the disease is no longer present or detectable. For many people, being in remission for more than 5 years means they may be able to live the remainder of their life without the disease coming back.

It’s common for people to feel relieved when they’re told they’re in remission. However, it’s important to remember to stay on top of medical appointments and tests, as it’s difficult to say who will be able to stay in remission for the remainder of their life and who may experience a relapse.

People in remission for Hodgkin’s lymphoma generally need to see their doctor every 3 to 6 months for follow-up examinations. This may include blood tests and positron emission tomography (PET) scans or CT scans.

If several years pass without any signs of relapse, you can gradually decrease the frequency of your visits. After 5 years post-treatment, you should still meet with your oncologist at least once a year to check in and monitor the progress of your recovery.

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
  • 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.

People who have experienced Hodgkin’s lymphoma have a higher-than-average chance of developing a second type of cancer later in life. This is 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 doctors’ appointments.

Treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually includes chemotherapy and radiation. Both treatments increase the risk of certain types of cancer. These include:

Seeing your oncologist each year and undergoing any recommended testing may help catch any signs of a secondary cancer. The sooner a second cancer is detected, the better the chances that it can be treated successfully.

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 don’t see a complete disappearance or remission of their cancer. Your doctor may also use the terms “refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma” or “refractory disease” to describe your condition.

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 with a doctor about your post-treatment diagnosis can help you get a better understanding of your recovery path.

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
  • scope of disease

The typical treatment response to 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.

While there is not much you can do to reduce your risk of relapse, aside from adhering to the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor, there are certain things you can do to make sure you’re fully equipped to handle a relapse, should it occur:

  • Eating a balanced, nutritious diet and getting regular exercise. A nutritious diet should include around five 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 a good idea to limit your intake of sugar and sodium.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight. 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 smoke, 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.