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What Happens During Monoclonal Antibody Treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Usually you get monoclonal antibodies by intravenous infusions. That means the medicine drips slowly into your vein through an IV needle, which is taped to your hand or arm. You may get these in your doctor’s office or a clinic, over the course of a few hours. Treatments may be repeated every few weeks for some of these.

Several types of monoclonal antibodies are now being used to treat lymphoma. Others are still being developed.

  • Rituxan (rituximab). This drug is used in first-line therapy for many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It binds to the CD20 protein on lymphoma cells and kills them. How often you get Rituxan depends on whether or not you are also getting chemotherapy.

  • Bexxar (tositumomab). This drug or Zevalin may be used if Rituxan no longer works. It's an antibody with radioactive iodine-131 attached. The radiation is delivered specifically to the lymphoma cells. The result is less damage to normal cells. But this drug lowers blood counts. So that means you can’t take it if you are getting chemotherapy. Because this treatment is a form of radiation, it is complex to give. If you take it, you will need to see a nuclear medicine doctor or radiation oncologist.

  • Zevalin (ibritumomab tiuxetan). This drug, or Bexxar may be used in Rituxan no longer works. It targets the CD20 protein on lymphoma cells. It also carries a radioactive molecule called Yttrium. The radiation is delivered right to the lymphoma cells. The result is less damage to normal cells. Because this treatment is a form of radiation, it is complex to give. If you take it, you will need to see a nuclear medicine doctor or radiation oncologist. This antibody lowers your blood count. That means you can’t take it if you are getting chemotherapy.

  • Campath (alemtuzumab). This drug targets the CD52 protein. It  is useful in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) after chemotherapy has been given. It may be used to treat some types of lymphoma as well.

  • Arzerra (ofatumumab). This drug targets the CD20 protein, which is found on some lymphoma cells. This drug is used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), usually after other treatments have been tried. It is also being studied for use against some types of lymphoma.

  • Ontak (denileukin diftitox). This drug is approved for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. It is made with a combination of substances. The first is interleukin-2. That’s a protein that attaches to some kinds of lymphocytes. The other component is diphtheria toxin. It kills cells.