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Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is cancer that originates in your lymphatic system, the disease-fighting network spread throughout your body. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, tumors develop from lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is more common than the other general type of lymphoma — Hodgkin lymphoma. Many different subtypes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma exist. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma are among the most common subtypes.
Advances in diagnosis and treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have helped improve the prognosis for people with this disease.
The information on this page is sourced from The Mayo Clinic.
Last updated on 07-13-20
Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may include:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.
Last updated on 05-01-20
In most cases, doctors don't know what causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In some cases, it's due to a weakened immune system. But it begins when your body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell.
Normally, lymphocytes go through a predictable life cycle. Old lymphocytes die, and your body creates new ones to replace them. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, your lymphocytes don't die, but continue to grow and divide. This oversupply of lymphocytes crowds into your lymph nodes, causing them to swell.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can begin in the:
Whether your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma arises from your B cells or T cells helps to determine your treatment options.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma generally involves the presence of cancerous lymphocytes in your lymph nodes. But the disease can also spread to other parts of your lymphatic system. These include the lymphatic vessels, tonsils, adenoids, spleen, thymus and bone marrow. Occasionally, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma involves organs outside of your lymphatic system.
In most cases, people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma don't have any obvious risk factors. And many people who have risk factors for the disease never develop it.
Some factors that may increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:
Last updated on 05-01-20
Your doctor will likely ask you about your personal and family medical history. He or she may then have you undergo tests and procedures used to diagnose non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, including:
Other tests and procedures may be used depending on your situation.
After your doctor has determined the extent of your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, your cancer will be assigned a stage. Knowing your cancer's stage helps your doctor determine your prognosis and treatment options.
Stages of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:
Additionally, your doctor uses the letters A and B to indicate whether you're experiencing symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma:
Many types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma exist, including rare forms that are difficult for inexperienced pathologists to identify. Accurate diagnosis and staging are key to developing a treatment plan. Research shows that review of biopsy tests by pathologists who aren't experienced with lymphoma results in a significant proportion of misdiagnoses. Get a second opinion from a specialist if needed.
Last updated on 05-01-20
Which non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatments are right for you depends on the type and stage of your disease, your overall health, and your preferences.
If your lymphoma appears to be slow growing (indolent), a wait-and-see approach may be an option. Indolent lymphomas that don't cause signs and symptoms may not require treatment for years.
Delaying treatment doesn't mean you'll be on your own. Your doctor will likely schedule regular checkups every few months to monitor your condition and ensure that your cancer isn't advancing.
If your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is aggressive or causes signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend treatment. Options may include:
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment — given orally or by injection — that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be given alone, in combination with other chemotherapy drugs or combined with other treatments.
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs you're given. Common side effects are nausea and hair loss. Serious long-term complications can occur, such as heart damage, lung damage, fertility problems and other cancers, such as leukemia.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you're positioned on a table and a large machine directs radiation at precise points on your body. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments.
During radiation therapy, you lie on a table and a large machine moves around you, directing the energy beams to specific points on your body. Radiation can be aimed at affected lymph nodes and the nearby area of nodes where the disease might progress. The length of radiation treatment varies, depending on the stage of the disease. A typical treatment plan might have you going to the hospital or clinic five days a week for several weeks, where you undergo a 30-minute radiation treatment at each visit.
Radiation therapy can cause skin redness and hair loss at the site where the radiation is aimed. Many people experience fatigue during radiation therapy. More-serious risks include heart disease, stroke, thyroid problems, infertility, and other cancers, such as breast or lung cancer.
Bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, involves using high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to suppress your bone marrow. Then healthy bone marrow stem cells from your body or from a donor are infused into your blood where they travel to your bones and rebuild your bone marrow.
People who undergo bone marrow transplant may be at increased risk of infection.
Biological therapy drugs help your body's immune system fight cancer.
For example, one biological therapy called rituximab (Rituxan) is a type of monoclonal antibody that attaches to B cells and makes them more visible to the immune system, which can then attack. Rituximab lowers the number of B cells, including your healthy B cells, but your body produces new healthy B cells to replace these. The cancerous B cells are less likely to recur.
Also, a drug called ibrutinib (Imbruvica) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for some people undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Radioimmunotherapy drugs are made of monoclonal antibodies that carry radioactive isotopes. This allows the antibody to attach to cancer cells and deliver radiation directly to the cells. An example of a radioimmunotherapy drug used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is ibritumomab tiuxetan (Zevalin).
Clinical research studies (clinical trials) may be an option for people whose disease has not been controlled by other treatment options. Ask your doctor about possible clinical trials for your type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
No alternative medicines have been found to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But alternative medicine may help you cope with the stress of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of cancer treatment. Talk with your doctor about your options, such as:
A non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis can be overwhelming. The following strategies and resources may help you deal with cancer:
Maintain a strong support system. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you deal with your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Friends and family can provide the practical support you'll need, such as helping take care of your house if you're in the hospital. And they can serve as emotional support when you feel overwhelmed by cancer.
Although friends and family can be your best allies, they sometimes may have trouble dealing with your illness. If so, the concern and understanding of a formal support group or others coping with cancer can be especially helpful.
Last updated on 05-01-20
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