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About non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Lymphoma (Cancer of Lymphocytes)
Abnormal cells form in the body’s immune system also known as the lymphatic system.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a term used to describe different types of lymphoma that share some of the same characteristics. These cancer form in the cells of the lymphatic system, a critical part of the immune system.

Facts about the lymphatic system:

  • It is a network of organs connected by vessels and lymph nodes.
  • It carries lymphocytes throughout the body to help fight infections and viruses.
  • It filters waste and toxins from the bloodstream.
  • It is made up of the thymus, tonsils, spleen and bone marrow.

The similarly named cancer type, Hodgkin lymphoma, refers to another group of lymphomas that are treated differently than non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphomas contain Reed-Sternberg cells, which are mutated B cells that are five times larger than normal B cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas do not contain these cells.

What causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is caused by changes in cell DNA. Some of these changes may be genetic, some may develop during a person"s lifetime due to an external influence, and still others may occur for no known reason. Gene changes that lead to non-Hodgkin lymphoma are usually acquired during a person"s lifetime, commonly as a result of exposure to:

  • Radiation
  • Carcinogenic chemicals
  • Infections

Age is also a major risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Researchers believe this is because gene mutations occur more often as we get older. Other risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma include a family history of lymphoma and changes in the immune system due to:

  • An immune deficiency or inherited immune disorder
  • An autoimmune disease, such as lupus
  • A chronic infection like HIV/AIDS
  • Treatment with certain drugs, such as methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Treatment with immunosuppressant drugs to treat patients who have had an organ transplant

Learn more about risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Who gets non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is among the most common cancer types in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 77,240 cases of non-Hogdkin lymphoma will be diagnosed in 2020.

The majority of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are over the age of 55. Men are also slightly more likely to develop the disease than women.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma types

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is classified into more than 30 types depending on the kind of lymphocyte—either B cells or T cells—involved. The disease is then further categorized by other factors, including whether the cancer is fast- or slow-growing.

The main types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • B cell lymphomas, which make up the majority of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the United States, and include these common forms:
    • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)
    • Follicular lymphoma
    • Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL)
    • Marginal zone lymphoma
  • T cell lymphomas, which account for about 10 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the United States

Learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma types

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma may develop anywhere in the body that lymph nodes exist. Because the disease may involve different organs, symptoms may vary depending not only on the type and stage of the cancer, but also its location.

Symptoms may include:

  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Fever
  • Night sweats and/or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Frequent infections
  • Coughing or shortness of breath

Learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms

Diagnosing non-Hodgkin lymphoma

A variety of tests are often performed to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These may include:

  • Physical exam
  • Biopsy
  • Imaging tests
  • Lab tests

Learn more about diagnosing non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Treating non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stem cell transplantation
  • Targeted therapy

Learn more about treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Next topic: What are the risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

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