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About Lymphoma

This section is for patients and family members who want to learn more about lymphoma. Answers to several commonly asked questions about lymphoma appear below.

What is lymphoma?

The term lymphoma comprises a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

NHL is a cancer that arises from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. NHL can start in one of three major types of white blood cells: B-cells, T-cells or natural killer cells. Within NHL, there are over 30 subtypes of the disease that are classified either as indolent (slow-growing) or aggressive (fast-growing) types and each sub-type of disease affects the body differently. They are grouped as non-Hodgkin lymphomas due to their lack of a certain type of cell known as Reed-Sternberg cells, and originate in the lymph nodes and lymphatic tissues.

Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by the presence of a type of lymphocyte called the Reed-Sternberg cell found in a patient’s lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow, and is one of the most curable forms of cancer.

As NHL and Hodgkin lymphoma progress, the immune system’s ability to fight infections is compromised and can impact the production of other blood cells, such as red blood cells.

What causes lymphoma?

The specific causes of Hodgkin lymphoma and NHL are generally not well understood.

What are the symptoms of lymphoma?

Symptoms of lymphoma include:

  • Painless swelling of one or more lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin
  • Fever of unknown origin
  • Tiredness or no energy
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Heavy sweating – especially at night

How common is lymphoma?

NHL is the sixth most common cancer in males and the seventh most common in females in the U.S. 560,000 people are estimated to be living with or in remission from NHL. It is estimated that 70,800 new cases of NHL will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2014.

Hodgkin lymphoma represents approximately 12% of all types of lymphomas diagnosed and accounts for slightly less than 1% of cancers worldwide. An estimated 9,200 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2014.

How is lymphoma treated?

You and your healthcare team will decide on the course of therapy that is right for you — and it may include the use of a single form of therapy or a combination of therapies.

The following are a few of the more common therapies for NHL, and the therapeutic approach will vary based on the subtype:

  • Chemotherapy, which involves the use of medications that destroy or kill lymphoma cells, including new targeted therapies that selectively affective the lymphoma cells
  • Stem cell transplant, which is a complex procedure that is aimed at helping the body produce healthy blood cells – this therapy is used in combination with high doses of chemotherapy and possible radiation therapy to destroy as many lymphoma cells as possible before transplanting new, healthy stem cells back into the bone marrow
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and alleviate pain in affected areas – it can be used to destroy cancer cells prior to stem cell transplantation
  • Immunomodulating drugs, which are drugs that are used to either suppress or activate certain actions of the immune system to help fight cancer
  • Proteasome inhibitor drugs are used in some types of lymphoma
  • Radioimmunotherapy drugs, which deliver radioactive isotopes directly to the lymphoma cells
  • Clinical trials involving new drug candidates and/or new uses of existing drugs

The following are a few of the more common therapies for Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Chemotherapy, which involves the use of medications that destroy or kill lymphoma cells
  • Antibodies targeted to Hodgkin “Reed-Sternberg”cells
  • Stem cell transplant, which is a complex procedure that is aimed at helping the body produce healthy blood cells – this therapy is used in combination with high doses of chemotherapy and possible radiation therapy to destroy as many lymphoma cells as possible before transplanting new, healthy stem cells back into the bone marrow
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and alleviate pain in affected areas – it can be used to destroy cancer cells prior to stem cell transplantation
  • Clinical trials involving new drug candidates and/or new uses of existing drugs

Where can I get additional information about lymphoma?

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) (1-800-955-4572) is one of the many non-profit cancer advocacy groups that can provide you with more information about lymphoma.

The LLS website provides information about the disease, treatment options, and clinical trials. In addition, you can find information about the Acetylon clinical trials, get a general overview of the LLS Therapy Acceleration Program (TAP), and subscribe to the LLS monthly Email newsletter, Lymphoma Links.

The following organization also provides information about lymphoma:

For information about cancer, please visit the following cancer organizations: