Lymphoma is an immune system cancer that affects the white blood cells of the body. It is slightly different from leukemia in that it forms masses around the lymph cells of the body such as lymph glands in the neck and armpit. There are a number of different types of lymphoma-around thirty five different types of the disease.

The lymph system is a collection of lymph glands that are connected by lymph vessels. The lymph vessels carry waste and infection cells from parts of the body and collect them for destruction in the lymph glands. Lymph fluid contains the white blood cells known as lymphocytes that get rid of infections and debris in the body. These lymph cells can turn cancerous. The glands can become swollen and painful if cancer is present in them.

There are two types of lymph cells that can kill off microbes and other things. These are the T lymphocytes and the B lymphocytes. The B lymphocytes are responsible for making antibodies against a pathogen. The antibodies alert other types of cells to take action against the pathogens. T cells can kill pathogens on their own and need to be activated in order to do so. Cancer or lymphoma happens when any one of the types of B or T cells grow out of control and fail to stop growing and dividing. The cells can collect in one spot and form a tumor or can spread out and be found in the bone marrow or in the circulatory system. Tumors can form in distant organs unrelated to the lymph system.

There are two types of lymphomas. One is called Hodgkin's lymphoma and the other is called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They are treated differently but have very similar symptoms. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has a slightly worse prognosis than Hodgkin's lymphoma and occurs in older age groups. Hodgkin's disease comes from a specific type of abnormal B cells. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurs as a result of overgrowth of either B cells or T cells of different types. Genetic markers are used to identify the different type of lymphoma involved in the cancer. There are five different types of Hodgkin's disease and about 30 different types of non-Hodgkin's disease.

Lymphoma is the most likely type of blood cancer in the US. It involves the seventh most common type of cancer in adults and, in children, is the third most common type of cancer. Most people have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There are about 66 thousand new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosed each year and about 8500 new cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosed each year. It is worrisome that the incidence of both kinds of lymphoma is getting more frequent. About twenty thousand patients will die each year from either kind of lymphoma. People survive Hodgkin's lymphoma at a greater rate than those who have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The mean age of Hodgkin's lymphoma is about 16-34 and the mean age of those who have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is older than age 55.

The causes of lymphoma are unclear but it is known that certain ages predispose one to certain types of lymphoma. Infections with certain microbes, including HIV are known to contribute to getting lymphoma. An Epstein-Barr virus, such as that which happens in infectious mononucleosis, is a contributing factor in some cases of lymphoma. Helicobacter pylori infections and infections with hepatitis B or hepatitis C contribute to getting lymphoma later in life. Those with autoimmune diseases and those with immunosuppressive therapy are at higher risk for getting lymphoma. If you have an inherited immunodeficiency condition, you can get lymphoma and if you have a greater chance of becoming exposed to toxic chemicals, it can make you more likely to get lymphoma. This can include exposure to pesticides, benzene or herbicides. Other solvents can contribute to lymphoma development. Using black hair dye can cause you to have lymphoma, especially if you dye your hair for twenty years or more with black hair dye. You can also have a family history of lymphoma which puts you at risk for developing lymphoma.

Symptoms of lymphoma include having enlarged lymph nodes in various body areas, fatigue, weight loss and pale skin. Fever and night sweats are also signs of lymphoma.


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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here