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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Radioimmunotherapy (RIT)

What is radioimmunotherapy (RIT)?

Radioimmunotherapy (RIT) is a type of targeted radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses strong X-rays or other waves (particles) to kill cancer cells. For non-Hodgkin lymphoma, radiation may be joined with a medicine that's injected into your blood. This is RIT. It uses radioactive molecules. They are attached to lab-made (synthetic) proteins. These proteins bind to cancer cells. The proteins are called monoclonal antibodies. When they are injected into your blood, the antibodies attach the small doses of radiation right to the lymphoma cells.

When is RIT used for non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

RIT might be used to treat some types of B-cell lymphomas. It may be used for newly diagnosed people. But it is most often used if other treatments are no longer working.

How is RIT given?

Your treatment will be done by a nuclear medicine doctor. Or it may be done by a radiation oncologist. Ask your doctor what you can expect to feel like during and after the treatment.

You'll be treated as an outpatient in a healthcare provider's office, a clinic, or in a hospital. This means you don’t have to stay overnight. The total length of treatment is about 1 to 2 hours. But the treatment plan depends on your case. 

On the first day of RIT treatment, you get a small dose of medicine that has no radiation. The medicine is put into your blood by IV (intravenous). You will be watched for allergic reactions or other problems. You’ll be given medicines before the treatment to lower this risk. About 1 week later, you'll get another dose of this medicine. This dose will also have no radiation. Within a few hours you will then get the form of the medicine that has radiation. This is given through an IV. It can take up to 2 hours to get the treatment.

Ask your healthcare provider what side effects you should watch for after treatment.

Possible side effects of RIT

Some side effects can be a lot like an allergic reaction. The most often happen during or shortly after the treatment and can include:

  • Tiredness

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, and nausea

  • Headache

  • Rash or hives

  • Swelling in your throat or chest tightness

  • Diarrhea

Some people may have more severe reactions. These can lead to low blood pressure and trouble breathing. You'll be given medicines before your RIT treatment to help lower the risk of these.

RIT can increase your risk of some infections for many months after treatment. If you were infected with hepatitis B in the past, it can make the virus flare up. You may need a blood test for hepatitis before starting this medicine.

The treatment can also affect your bone marrow. This can lead to low white blood cell and platelet counts. This increases your risk for infection, bruising, and bleeding.

Call your healthcare provider if you have signs of infection, such as fever or pain. Ask what other symptoms you should call your healthcare provider about.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2020
© 2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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