B-cell lymphoma

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at July 30, 2016
StartDiseasesB-cell lymphoma

B-cells are a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies to fight infections. When an individual is diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma it means that the B-cells in the individual’s body have mutated, and the white blood cells that are designed to protect the human body have become a form of cancer that can be extremely aggressive.


Definition & Facts

B-Cell lymphoma is one of the most common types of blood cancer, most of which are Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. There are several different types of B-cell lymphoma, but the most common type seen today is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, which accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all of cases. This type of cancer typically begins in the lymph nodes which are pea-sized glands that are located in the neck, underarm, or groin, but B-cell lymphoma can also be found in other areas, such as the thyroid, the gastrointestinal tract, or the brain.

Symptoms & Complaints

One of the first symptoms that someone suffering from B-cell lymphoma will experience is swollen lymph nodes, which typically can be seen in the neck, armpit, or groin area. This swelling can be painless or it can be accompanied with abdominal pain and abdominal bloating, chest pains, and bone pains.

Shortness of breath is a symptom that can be evident as well as excessive coughing. Those who suffer from this disease may experience night sweats and unexplained fevers as well as excessive tiredness and fatigue.

In addition, unexplained weight loss can also be experienced, as this disease attacks a person's white blood cells and immune system. B-cell lymphoma can cause a weakened immune system and other autoimmune diseases.


The causes of B-cell lymphoma have not been clearly identified by scientists, researchers, and doctors. It occurs when the body produces an abnormal amount of lymphocytes that continue to grow. As they grow, as with any cells, they divide, which creates more of the abnormal cells.

It is known that the disease is not contagious, so it cannot be transferred from one individual to another through any type of contact. It is also known that this mutation of the cells in not hereditary, so a parent who suffers from B-cell lymphoma cannot pass it on to their offspring.

Some of the risk factors that are associated with this type of lymphoma are age, as many individuals are over 60 when diagnosed. In addition, men seem to have a higher risk of lymphoma than females. Viral infections or anything that could compromise an individual’s immune system could put them at a higher risk.

Infections that cause the body to fight using white blood cells can increase the chance that the cancerous cells will mutate. This means that instead of getting healthier, the individual will be attaining more of the cells that are causing illness.

Exposure to environmental toxicants as well as chemicals introduced to the body during chemotherapy may also increase the risk of developing B-cell lymphoma.

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosing B-cell lymphoma early on is crucial as it can be an aggressive disease. The first step that needs to be taken is for a doctor to take a biopsy of the lymph node. With this biopsy, the doctor can assess whether or not there is cancer in the lymph nodes and what type of cancer it is.

If it is determined to be B-cell lymphoma, then the doctor will perform additional tests so he or she can inform the patient how advanced the cancer is and what stage it is currently in. Tests that will be performed include urinalysis and blood tests. Bone marrow samples may be taken to ensure that the marrow does not contain abnormal cells as well. To test the central nervous system, a lumbar puncture may be required to take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid for testing.

In addition, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, and ultrasounds may be performed to make sure the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body. Stage one is when the cancer is only in the lymph nodes, while stage four means that the disease has spread to organs, blood, and to the bone marrow.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for this form of cancer differs based on the stage that the cancer is currently in and how aggressive it is. Side effects of different treatments will vary for each individual, based on the stage of the cancer and how well the body reacts to the treatment.

Chemotherapy is used to treat both slow-growing and aggressive types of cancer. Chemotherapy drugs that are used to treat B-cell lymphoma include cyclophosphamide, hydroxydaunorubicin, and vincristine. Corticosteroids like prednisone are also used. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally or by an injection and the dosages will be increased to treat more aggressive disease. Radiation therapy can be used to kill the mutated cells.

Younger patients who are otherwise in good health may consider stem cell transplants or bone marrow transplants. This method allows the doctor to use high concentrations of radiation or chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells, which will kill the stem cells as well. Once the treatment is complete new stem cells will be introduced into the body.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Since B-cell lymphoma is a cancer that does not have a clearly identified cause, it is difficult to determine what can be done to prevent it. Nevertheless, one preventative approach to avoid all cancers is to keep the body’s immune system in good condition.

Any issues that may compromise the body’s immune system, such as HIV can add an additional risk, so one should try to prevent anything that may weaken the body. Obesity may also be a risk factor, so keeping in shape may help prevent this type of cancer.