What Is DLBCL?

DLBCL is a fast-growing cancer that affects white blood cells known as B cells. Normally, B cells help your immune system defend against infections caused by bacteria or viruses.

However, in this type of cancer, abnormal B cells become cancerous. This means that they multiply uncontrollably and live longer than normal cells.

DLBCL is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, making up about 30% of all lymphomas.


of U.S. cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are DLBCL

Are There Different Types of Lymphomas?

At the highest level, lymphomas are divided into two main types:
Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hodgkin Lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by the presence of a specific type of abnormal cell called a “Reed-Sternberg cell” that can be seen when a sample of the lymph node is examined under a microscope.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

However, if these Reed-Sternberg cells are not detected, the lymphoma is classified as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or NHL for short. DLBCL is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

How Aggressive Is DLBCL?

This disease is an aggressive form of NHL, and involves organs other than the lymph nodes about 40% of the time.

These may include:

Gastrointestinal tract

Or essentially any organ of the body

This type of cancer can develop from other forms of NHL, or start out as DLBCL.


Who Is Affected?

Having certain characteristics may put you at higher risk for this disease:


DLBCL is most frequently diagnosed between 65–74 years of age.


Medications that suppress the immune system, such as those given after organ transplant, may also increase your risk.


Men are approximately 1.5 times more likely than women to develop this cancer.

Medical History

Conditions that weaken your immune system may increase your risk for DLBCL. Examples include:

  • Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus type I or Epstein-Barr virus infection
  • Bacterial infections like Helicobacter pylori
  • Inherited immune disorders

Family History

In a large population-based database study, children and siblings of people with DLBCL were at increased likelihood to develop the disease themselves.

What Are Some Symptoms?

The first sign of lymphoma like DLBCL is often an enlarged lymph node in the neck, underarm, or groin. Other common symptoms may include:

Fever for no known reason

Pain in the chest, abdomen, or bones for no known reason

Feeling very tired

Weight loss for no known reason

Skin rash or itchy skin

Drenching night sweats

What Do “Relapsed” and “Refractory” Mean?

Two common terms that are often used to describe cancers such as DLBCL are “relapsed” and “refractory.”

Relapsed DLBCL

Relapsed DLBCL means that the disease, or the signs and symptoms of the disease, has returned following at least one previous treatment. This means that after a period of showing fewer symptoms, your DLBCL has returned.

Refractory DLBCL

Refractory DLBCL means that the disease did not respond to previous treatment.

If you have experienced relapsed or refractory DLBCL, you are not alone.

Overall, approximately 30% to 40% of people diagnosed with DLBCL experience a relapse, while about 10% of patients experience refractory DLBCL.

DLBCL Treatment Approaches

Once you have learned that you have DLBCL, your healthcare team will work with you to develop a treatment plan. There are different treatment approaches available to people who have relapsed or refractory DLBCL.


These drugs treat cancer by killing rapidly dividing cells throughout the body or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy can be given alone or in combination with other treatment options. It may be given orally, by injection under the skin, or intravenously and can affect both normal and cancer cells.

One combination used to treat DLBCL is chemoimmunotherapy, in which chemotherapy is combined with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy uses treatment to help stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer.

Targeted Therapy

A type of cancer treatment that helps block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecular targets on cancer cells. These treatments can affect both normal and cancer cells.

Stem-Cell Transplant

All blood cells are formed from special cells called blood stem cells, which can be damaged or destroyed by radiation or high-dose chemotherapy. A stem-cell transplant replaces damaged or destroyed cells with healthy stem cells.


An abbreviation for “chimeric antigen receptor T-cell” therapy. A type of cancer treatment in which a type of immune cells called T cells are taken from a patient’s blood and modified in the laboratory so they will attack cancer cells.

Some treatments may be given alone, while others may be given in combination with other types of treatments. You and your healthcare team will decide which treatment approach best suits your individual needs moving forward.

Communicating With Your Healthcare Team

Not an actual
healthcare provider.

Communicating With Your Healthcare Team

Finding out that you have DLBCL or that the disease has relapsed or has not responded to treatment can easily catch you off guard. You may feel overwhelmed, confused, or uncertain about what your next steps should be.

Remember, your healthcare team is the best source of information about your disease and how to move forward. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask them any question you may have. Remember, when it comes to DLBCL, your treatment, and your health, there is no such thing as a bad question.

Have questions about working with your healthcare team?

This toolkit is designed to help you become a part of the decision-making process by providing you with helpful resources, tools, and more.

Download the toolkit

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or caregiver.