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Lymphoma 101

Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer. Getting a rapid, accurate diagnosis and receiving optimized treatment can make a big difference. Understanding the basics about lymphoma may help you or someone you love get the best care possible.  Here are answers to some common questions about lymphoma.

Q. What is lymphoma?

A. Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that is part of the body’s immune system.

Q. How does lymphoma spread?

A. Lymphocytes travel throughout the bloodstream and the lymphatic system to fight infection. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, nodes and ducts that passes through nearly all of the body’s organs and tissues. This makes it easier for lymphocytes that mutate and become cancerous to spread throughout the lymphatic tissue and to the organs.

Q. What are the different types of lymphoma?

A. There are two main categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (previously called Hodgkin's disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymph nodes--the small, bean-shaped organs found underneath the skin in the neck, underarm and groin or inside the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Hodgkin lymphoma is rare, accounting for about 10 percent of lymphoma cases.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (also called NHL or simply "lymphoma") is a cancerous growth of mutated B, T or NK cells in the lymph system. B cells make up the largest group of lymphomas (about 90 percent in the United States).

Q. What are the symptoms of lymphoma?

A. The symptoms often depend on where the lymph gland enlargement occurs. The following symptoms are sometimes associated with lymphoma but can also be due to other conditions:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever, night sweats
  • Low energy
  • Weight loss

Q. What causes lymphoma?

A. Most of the time, there is no clear reason why lymphoma develops. Some factors seem to be loosely associated with developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, like:

  • Being male
  • Older age (>60 years)
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having certain infections like human immunodeficiency virus or Epstein-Barr virus
  • Exposure to certain drugs or chemicals like agent orange

Most people with risk factors do not get non-Hodgkin lymphoma, however.

Q. How is lymphoma treated?

A. Treatment is based on multiple factors:

  • The type of Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • The disease stage and whether it is fast- or slow-growing
  • The molecular, genetic and clinical features of the disease
  • Your age, health, and personal goals

Q. What treatments are available for lymphoma?

A. Hodgkin lymphoma treatment options include:

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment options include:

Learn more about Immunotherapy at Fox Chase Cancer Center.