Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Overview

The lymphatic system, responsible for your immune system, consists of:

  • A network of vessels that carry lymph, a water fluid containing cells that combats infection (lymphocytes), and lymph nodes
  • Spleen
  • Bone marrow
  • Tonsils
  • Thymus gland

When cells in the lymphatic system grow and replicate too rapidly and in a disorganized fashion, it is considered to be cancerous, giving rise to the development of tumors (lymphomas).

Lymphomas are mainly categorized into two types: Hodgkin’s (HD) and Non-Hodgkin’s (NHL). The difference between Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the type of lymphocyte cell involved.  In the former condition, a Reed-Sterm cell is involved, and in the latter, this type of cell is absent.

Two types of white blood cells become cancerous: the T-cells or T-lymphocytes and the B-Cells or B-lymphocytes. Distinguishing between HD and NHL is crucial because the prognosis and treatment can vary greatly between the two.

HD has decreased in the U.S. and represents only 1% of cancers. NHL has increased more than 70% in the last 20 years and represents 4% of cancers, making it the fifth most common cancer with more than 65,000 new cases.

Caucasians are more apt to develop both HD and NHL, though NHL typically appears between 40-70 years of age. In HD, there are two groups that it generally occurs in: adults over 55 and young adults 15-40 years.  Both types can occur in children, but under age 5 is rare.

Symptoms of lymphoma may include:

  • Increased incidence of infections from decreased immunity
  • Fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Swelling or enlargement of lymph nodes (typically in neck, groin or armpit)

Occasionally associated with lymphomas, one may experience:

  • Red, itchy skin patches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

 Written by Barbara Hales, MD

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