Article: Hodgkin's Lymphoma During Pregnancy

General Information

Note: A separate PDQ summary on Adult Hodgkin's Lymphoma Treatment is also available.

This summary discusses the treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma during pregnancy.

What is Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of lymphoma. Lymphomas are cancers that develop in the lymph system, part of the body's immune system.

The lymph system is made up of thin tubes that branch, like blood vessels, into all parts of the body. Lymph vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. Along the network of vessels are groups of small organs called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, and abdomen. The lymph nodes make and store infection-fighting cells. The spleen (an organ in the upper abdomen that makes lymphocytes and filters old blood cells from the blood), the thymus (a small organ beneath the breastbone), and the tonsils (an organ in the throat) are also part of the lymph system.

Because there is lymph tissue in many parts of the body, Hodgkin's lymphoma can start to grow in almost any part of the body. The cancer can spread to almost any organ or tissue in the body, including the liver, bone marrow (the spongy tissue inside the large bones of the body that makes blood cells), and spleen.

Lymphomas are divided into 2 general types: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. The cancer cells in Hodgkin's lymphoma look a certain way under a microscope. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Adult Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Treatment and Childhood Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)

A doctor should be seen if any of the following symptoms persist for longer than 2 weeks:

  • Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Tiredness.
  • Weight loss without dieting.
  • Itchy skin.

If symptoms are present, a doctor will carefully check for swelling or lumps in the neck, underarms, and groin. If the lymph nodes do not feel normal, a doctor may need to cut out a small piece and look at it under the microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. This procedure is called a biopsy.

The chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the stage of the cancer (whether it is in just one area or has spread throughout the body), the size of the swollen areas, the results of blood tests, the type of symptoms, and the patient's age, sex, and overall condition.


Hodgkin's lymphoma most commonly affects young adults and, therefore, young women may be diagnosed with the disease when they are pregnant. Treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma during pregnancy is chosen carefully so that the fetus is put in as little danger as possible. When treatment is being planned, the wishes of the patient, the seriousness and aggressiveness of the disease, and the number of months remaining in the pregnancy are also considered. The treatment plan may change as the symptoms, cancer, and pregnancy change.

Women who are in the first trimester of pregnancy are usually advised to end the pregnancy. Women who choose to continue pregnancy may delay treatment until the baby is delivered if the disease is slow growing and located above the diaphragm (above the stomach). If immediate treatment is needed for Hodgkin's lymphoma, women may choose to receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Both radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause harm to the fetus. In most cases, the fetus can be protected from exposure to radiation therapy with proper shielding. The fetus can not be protected against exposure to chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells), and some chemotherapy regimens may cause birth defects.

Most patients in the second half of pregnancy can delay treatment until the baby is induced at 32 to 36 weeks. Treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma can begin shortly after the baby is born. Patients with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma may require treatment before the baby is delivered. These patients may receive steroids (designed to fight tumor growth and help lung development in the fetus), radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. Because some chemotherapy regimens may cause birth defects, single-drug chemotherapy regimens are usually given. More extensive chemotherapy is usually given once the baby has been delivered. If the patient's breathing is being affected by a large tumor in the chest, a short course of radiation therapy can be given before delivery.

Women who have been treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma during pregnancy appear to have survival rates similar to women who were treated while not pregnant. The long-term effects of anticancer treatment on the children of these women is not yet known; however, the risk does not appear to be significant.

To Learn More


For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

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The NCI's Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. There are also many other places where people can get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Local hospitals may have information on local and regional agencies that offer information about finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems associated with cancer treatment.


The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.


The NCI's LiveHelp service, a program available on several of the Institute's Web sites, provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.


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Before starting treatment, patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about new treatments, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard."

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Source: National Cancer Institute
Cache Date: December 10, 2004