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What Is Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma? 

Welcome to lymphoma-faq.org, your source for answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about non-hodgkin's lymphoma. In these pages you'll find helpful and informative facts about adult and childhood non-hodgkin's lymphoma symptoms, causes, treatment, and more. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (also called NHL) is cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. To understand this disease, it is helpful to know about the lymphatic system:

The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is part of the body's immune system. The immune system fights infections and other diseases.

In the lymphatic system, a network of lymph vessels carries clear fluid called lymph. Lymph vessels lead to small, round organs called lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are filled with lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). The lymph nodes trap and remove bacteria or other harmful substances that may be in the lymph. Groups of lymph nodes are found in the neck, underarms, chest, abdomen, and groin.

Other parts of the lymphatic system include the tonsils, spleen, and thymus. Lymphatic tissue is also found in other parts of the body including the stomach, skin, and small intestine.

lymphatic system
  • Lymph: Colorless, watery fluid that travels through the lymph system and carries white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes protect the body against infections and the growth of tumors.
  • Lymph vessels: A network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream.
  • Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that filter substances in lymph and help fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes are located along the network of lymph vessels found throughout the body. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen, and groin.
  • Spleen: An organ that produces lymphocytes, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells. It is located on the left side of the abdomen near the stomach.
  • Thymus: An organ in which lymphocytes grow and multiply. The thymus is in the chest behind the breastbone.
  • Tonsils: Two small masses of lymph tissue at the back of the throat. The tonsils produce lymphocytes.
  • Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue in the center of large bones. Bone marrow produces white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph system. There are many types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. All types of lymphoma begin in cells of the lymphatic system. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma begins when a lymphocyte (a B cell or T cell) becomes abnormal. Usually, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma starts in a B cell in a lymph node. The abnormal cell divides to make copies of itself. The new cells divide again and again, making more and more abnormal cells. The abnormal cells are cancer cells. They do not die when they should. They do not protect the body from infections or other diseases. Also, the cancer cells can spread to nearly any other part of the body.

Because lymph tissue is found throughout the body, adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can begin in almost any part of the body. Cancer can spread to the liver and many other organs and tissues.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can occur in both adults and children. Treatment for children, however, is different than treatment for adults.

Types of Lymphoma

Lymphomas are divided into two general types: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This summary refers to the treatment of adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When non-hodgkin’s lymphoma is found, the pathologist will report the type. The most common types are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

  • Indolent (also called low-grade) lymphomas grow slowly. They tend to cause few symptoms.
  • Aggressive (also called intermediate-grade and high-grade) lymphomas grow and spread more quickly. They tend to cause severe symptoms. Over time, many indolent lymphomas become aggressive lymphomas.

Adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are also described in terms of the location of affected lymph nodes.

  • Contiguous lymphomas: Lymphomas in which the lymph nodes containing cancer are next to each other.
  • Noncontiguous lymphomas: Lymphomas in which the lymph nodes containing cancer are not next to each other, but are on the same side of the diaphragm.

Childhood non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

There are three major types of childhood non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.The specific type of lymphoma is determined by how the cells look under a microscope. The 3 major types of childhood non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are:

  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma
  • Small noncleaved cell lymphoma (either Burkitt’s lymphoma or non-Burkitt’s lymphoma)
  • Large cell lymphoma
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