Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a group of cancers that originate in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. The cancerous cells develop in the lymph nodes or lymphatic tissues of organs like the stomach, skin, or intestines.

More than 80,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with NHL in 2022. This article will explore and highlight some facts and statistics you should know about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Person on couch, feelin swollen lymph nodes in neck

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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Overview

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a group of cancers of the lymphatic system. When previously healthy lymphocytes, which may be B cells, T cells, or NK cells, undergo genetic changes (mutations), they can multiply uncontrollably, becoming cancerous. It’s important to know the subtype of NHL because this determines treatment.

How Common Is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

In the United States, NHL is the seventh most common cancer in men and the sixth most common cancer in women. NHL makes up 4% of all cancers in the United States. It’s estimated that about 19 people per 100,000 in the United States will be newly diagnosed with NHL each year.

For 2022, diagnoses for NHL were estimated to be:

  • 44,120 men
  • 36,350 women

From 2009 to 2018, diagnosis rates decreased by 0.4% each year.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma by Ethnicity

In 2019, per every 100,000 people, the breakdown of NHL diagnoses by ethnicity included:

  • Hispanic (any race): 18 people
  • Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Native: 17
  • Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander: 13.8
  • Non-Hispanic Black: 14.7
  • Non-Hispanic White: 20.6

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma by Age and Sex

While NHL can be diagnosed at any age, it is more common as a person gets older. In 2019, per every 100,000 people, the breakdown of age at diagnosis is as follows:

  • Under age 50: 4.6 people
  • Ages 50 to 64: 29.8 people
  • Ages 65 and over: 89.6 people

For 2019, the yearly rate of new NHL diagnoses by sex was:

  • Females: 15.9 per 100,000
  • Males: 23.0 per 100,000

Causes of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Risk Factors

The exact cause of NHL is not known. Most people with NHL will never learn what caused their cancer. However, there are some risk factors for developing NHL.

It's important to remember that having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get NHL; it merely means your risk is slightly increased.

Risk factors include:

  • Age: Risk increases with age; the most common subtypes are usually diagnosed in your 60s or 70s
  • Sex: NHL is diagnosed more in males than females
  • Bacterial infections: Some NHL subtypes are associated with certain infections, especially mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, which is associated with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection.
  • Viruses: Some types of NHL are caused by or associated with viruses, particularly Epstein-Barr virus for Burkitt lymphoma and hepatitis C virus for marginal zone lymphomas of the spleen.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Some people with autoimmune disorders are at increased risk of certain subtypes of NHL, and some medications for autoimmune disorders can increase the risk as well
  • Immune deficiency disorders: People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are at increased risk for NHL.
  • Organ transplantation: After a transplant, the immune-suppressing drugs that need to be taken can increase the risk of NHL.
  • Previous cancer treatment: Certain types of cancer treatment can increase your risk for later developing NHL.
  • Chemical exposure: Certain pesticides, herbicides, and petrochemicals can increase the risk of NHL.
  • Breast implants: Implants can increase your risk of breast lymphoma.
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation: Nuclear reactor accidents, atomic bombs, and medical radiation therapy can increase your risk.

Other risk factors are not definitive and need more research. These include the tuberculosis vaccine and bladder cancer treatment Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (although other vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk), genetic factors, and diet and weight.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

The five-year relative survival rate for NHL overall is 73.8%.

Survival Rates: What Do They Mean?

Survival rate is defined as the percentage of people who are still living with a disease such as cancer for a specified amount of time. Survival rate may be presented in a number of different ways. The survival rate is an average of the population with the condition.

It is not an individual prognosis (expected outcome). The prognosis for a person with lymphoma will vary due to several factors related to their overall health, stage at diagnosis, response to treatment, and characteristics of their type of lymphoma.

Survival rates vary depending on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. Five-year relative survival rates by stage are:

  • Stage 1 (single region): 86.5%
  • Stage 2 (multiple regions): 78.1%
  • Stage 3 (spread to both sides of the diaphragm): 72.3%
  • Stage 4 (diffuse involvement): 63.9%

Screening and Early Detection

There’s no screening for NHL per se, but if a healthcare provider suspects that your symptoms might indicate NHL or wants to rule it out, certain tests may be done. A complete medical history will be taken, along with a physical exam, especially looking at the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver.

If the lymph nodes are swollen, the healthcare provider may evaluate you for an infection and prescribe medication. If this doesn’t reduce swelling, tests may be done to check for lymphoma, including:

  • Biopsy: A small piece of the lymph node or other tissues may be removed for microscopic examination.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This cross-sectional X-ray can check for tumors or the spread of cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI uses powerful magnetic fields to produce images to look for tumors and other disease indications.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: A bone marrow sample is removed, usually from the pelvic bone, to check for the health of the bone marrow and abnormal cells that may be associated with lymphoma.

Knowing possible signs and symptoms of NHL can help with early detection. Some forms of NHL, though, have no signs or symptoms. Other conditions can also cause some symptoms of NHL.

Symptoms of lymphoma can vary depending on the type, where the cancer started, and the organs it affects. General symptoms can include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the underarms, neck, groin, abdomen
  • Sweating and chills
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Enlarged liver or spleen

If you are experiencing any symptoms that are unusual for you, see a healthcare provider.

Summary

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a group of cancers that affect the lymphatic system. There are various types of NHL and getting an accurate diagnosis with the specific type is important, as this guides treatment and prognosis.

There are various treatments available, and survival rates have been steadily increasing over time. Talk with your treatment team about your specific diagnosis, your treatment plan, and what it means for you.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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