For some types of lymphoma, treatment aims to get rid of all of the lymphoma and send it into complete remission (no evidence of lymphoma in tests and scans). This is usually the case with Hodgkin lymphoma and high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
For other types of lymphoma, such as some types of skin lymphoma, treatment aims to control the lymphoma and send it into partial remission. This means that there’s less lymphoma in your body than there was before you had treatment.
Complete remission means that:
- your symptoms of lymphoma have gone
- there’s no evidence of lymphoma in your body from tests and scans after treatment.
Some doctors prefer not to use the word ‘cure’. This is because there could still be a very small amount of lymphoma in your body that doesn’t show up in scan images.
In general, the longer you are in complete remission, the less likely your lymphoma is to come back (relapse). If your lymphoma does relapse, there are still effective treatment options.
Depending on the usual practice of your hospital, you might be referred back to your GP for health checks after a certain number of years in remission. This depends on factors such as your lymphoma type, the treatment you have had and how long it’s been since you completed treatment. Follow-up might also differ if you were treated as part of a clinical trial.
Partial remission means one of the following:
- there are fewer lymphoma cells in your body
- lymphoma is affecting fewer parts of your body than it was before.
You might still have some symptoms of lymphoma.
Usually, doctors use the term ‘partial remission’ if your lymphoma has reduced by at least half of its original size at diagnosis.
Treatment for low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma is often very effective at putting lymphoma into partial remission. It is unlikely to go into complete remission because the slow-growing cells in low-grade lymphomas are hard to get rid of completely.
Many people with low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma have full or partial remission that lasts for many months or even years after treatment for lymphoma. Most of these people have different treatments over time. This is because it usually comes back (relapses) or worsens at some point, and then needs further treatment.
Some people don’t have any treatment for their lymphoma right away. Active monitoring (‘watch and wait’) might instead be recommended. This is where you have regular check-ups with your medical team to monitor your health and to see how the lymphoma is affecting you. Watch and wait is a common approach with low-grade (slow-growing) types of lymphoma in people who are not experiencing troublesome symptoms.
Some people therefore think of low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a long-term (chronic) illness that needs treatment from time-to-time.
Remission can bring mixed feelings. For example, some people worry about the possibility of their lymphoma relapsing. Although relapsed lymphoma can be treated again, living with the uncertainty of relapse can be difficult to cope with emotionally.
Following a healthy lifestyle can help you to live well with and beyond lymphoma, and to adjust physically and emotionally. It also helps to put you in a good position to receive treatment if and when you need it in the future. You might hear this called ‘prehabilitation’ (getting ready for treatment). A healthy lifestyle includes good diet and nutrition, building exercise and physical activity into your life, getting enough sleep, making time to relax, and managing stress. It’s also important to limit your alcohol intake and not to smoke. Take care to protect your skin in the sun too.
Remember that we are here to support you, for example through our buddy service and support groups. You might also be interested in our Live your Life peer-led self-management course, designed for people who have completed treatment or who are on active monitoring (watch and wait).
In this video, recorded during our live webinar in September 2022, our guest panel talked about remission: what this means for people with different types of lymphoma and what information and support might be helpful in managing remission.