Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at April 24, 2016

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in and is related to the immune system. Lymphoma is divided into two distinct categories. These categories include Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.


Definition & Facts

Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in the white blood cells. Non-Hodgkin's begins in lymphocyte cells. Lymphocytes are part of the immune system and are located in the lymph nodes. These cells are also found in other types of lymphoid tissue such as bone marrow and spleen tissue.

It is estimated that approximately 761,600 people in the United States are either in remission or currently living with some form of lymphoma. Since the 1970's, lymphoma has nearly doubled, making it one of the most common types of cancer. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is much more common than Hodgkin's lymphoma. Before 1970, most people with Hodgkin's did not survive the disease. Now the majority can recover.

Symptoms & Complaints

Many times there are no symptoms or complaints in the very early stages of lymphoma. The following are some of the symptoms associated with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. An individual may experience enlarged lymph nodes. Sometimes painless swelling in the lymph nodes is associated with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Other symptoms can include a swollen abdomen and feeling full after eating only a small portion of food.

Chest pressure and chest pain as well as coughing and shortness of breath may also be symptoms. Fever, night sweats, and fatigue are sometimes symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Unexplained weight loss and anemia are also symptoms that can occur.

Many of the Hodgkin's lymphoma symptoms are the same as non-Hodgkin's. Symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, changes in smell and taste, and nausea, although not as common, have also been reported in some patients. It's recommended to see a doctor if any of these symptoms become persistent.


There are several general risk factors and possible causes for lymphoma. Some of the risk factors include previous problems with the immune system, a family history of lymphoma, and previously having treatment for cancer. Having certain infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus and the hepatitis C virus may also lead to a greater chance of developing the disease. Poor diet, obesity, and smoking can also be causes of lymphoma.

There may also be a connection between exposure to certain chemicals. Exposure to solvents such as benzene, turpentine, and ethyl alcohol may cause a person to develop lymphoma. Certain jobs, such as working in plastics manufacturing and refining occupations are also potential risk factors for the disease. Herbicides and pesticides used in agricultural have been linked to lymphoma.

Aging is another risk factor. Being male is also considered a risk factor for this disease. Sometimes people who seem to have no risk factors for the disease will still develop some type of lymphoma.

Diagnosis & Tests

There are several tests and examination methods used to determine both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. For both conditions testing will normally begin by obtaining a complete medical history of the patient. The doctor will then conduct a physical examination. The doctor will examine the lymph nodes in the body to find out if they are swollen.

The liver and spleen will also be checked for any excessive swelling. Blood tests and possibly urine testing will be conducted after the initial physical examination has been completed. X-rays and CT scans may be ordered after lab tests have come back.

Finally, biopsies of body tissues such as parts of a lymph node or a bone marrow test may be completed before a final diagnosis is made. Minor surgery is usually necessary to remove part of a lymph node while a needle is used to conduct a bone marrow biopsy.

After the diagnosis has been made and before treatment can begin a physician will use the tests that were conducted to determine how far the disease has spread. This is also called determining the stage of the lymphoma.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment and therapy options will be based on what type of lymphoma a patient has as well as its stage. For Hodgkin's lymphoma, chemotherapy is often used to treat the disease. Sometimes a combination of chemotherapy and radiation is used to fight the lymphoma. Chemotherapy can be taken in either a pill or sometimes in IV form.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is sometimes not treated immediately, especially if the lymphoma appears to be growing very slowly. If non-Hodgkin's becomes more aggressive, chemotherapy or radiation, either separately or in conjunction, may be used to treat the condition. Biological therapy drugs and various medications that improve the immune system are also sometimes used for treatment.

Target therapies are sometimes used instead of traditional chemotherapy. These select drugs specifically attack the process that turns the lymphocytes into cancerous cells. They are able to only target cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells.

A patient getting diagnosed as early as possible and beginning the necessary treatment will improve the outcome. About 90 percent of those diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma can be cured. The five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is approximately 69 percent.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

One of the ways to prevent non-Hodgkin's ymphoma is to prevent some of the risk factors that can cause the disease. One of the primary risk factors is immune deficiency. If an individual suffers from any type of immune deficiency it may be recommended to use a variety of therapies to increase immunity.

It is also recommended to aggressively treat any infection that may occur. The best ways to prevent lymphomas in general are the same as preventing most other types of cancers. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking are ways to help prevent most cancers, including lymphoma.

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