Douglas A. Nelson, MD, is double board-certified in medical oncology and hematology. He was a physician in the US Air Force and now practices at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he is an associate professor.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a large network of vessels that carry a clear fluid, called lymph, throughout the body. Also included in the system are lymph nodes, the spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, and a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. Lymphoma can affect any part of the lymphatic system and, in severe cases, spread to organs outside of the system.
There are over 70 different types of lymphoma classified under two broad categories—Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Diagnosis entails a medical history, physical examination, bloodwork, and a lymph node biopsy. Treatment plans for lymphoma are based largely on the type and stage of lymphoma, as well as a patient's overall health and personal preferences.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the white blood cells, which are the infection-fighting cells of your immune system. There are over 60 types of non-Hodgkin lymphomas, and they vary in their symptoms, treatments, and prognosis.
Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that begins in a specific type of white blood cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell. Compared to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma is rarer. A common initial symptom of this cancer is swelling of a lymph node in the neck, under the arm, or in the groin.
Lymphoma occurs when normal, healthy white blood cells begin multiplying and growing out of control. While DNA mutations (changes) are linked to the development of lymphoma, scientists haven’t teased out yet why these gene changes occur.
Most lymphomas are curable. Of the two main types of lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma tends to be the most treatable. Indolent (which means slow-growing) non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not curable, although it can usually be managed well for years.
If lymphoma starts in the skin (called skin or cutaneous lymphoma), it may cause patches of scaly, red skin to form on the body. This rash, which resembles eczema initially, may eventually progress to hard, raised tumors on the skin (called plaques).
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a common virus found all over the world. It spreads most commonly through saliva and can cause infectious mononucleosis, or mono. Infection with EBV is associated with the development of certain types of lymphoma.
Hodgkin is a term used to describe one of the two main types of lymphoma (the other being non-Hodgkin lymphoma). Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by a specific type of white blood cell called the Reed Sternberg cell.
The lymphatic system is part of your immune system. It consists of tubes that carry a clear-to-white watery fluid, called lymph, which helps rid the body of harmful substances. Your lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, and adenoids are also part of the lymphatic system.
A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell that is produced in the bone marrow and found in your bloodstream and lymph system. There are two main types of lymphocytes—B-cells and T-cells—both of which help your body fight disease.
Non-Hodgkin is a term used to describe one of the main types of lymphoma (the other being Hodgkin lymphoma). There are no Reed Sternberg cells seen in non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These cells are detected (seen under a microscope) in Hodgkin lymphoma.
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. For lymphoma, radiation therapy is usually confined to the affected parts of the body (called involved-field radiation therapy).
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Types of Lymphoma. Updated 2020.
American Cancer Society. Types of Lymphoma of the Skin. Revised March 2018.