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Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Facts

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in men and women in the nation. According to the American Cancer Society, about 66,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are diagnosed each year in the United States. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is slightly more common in white men.

Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system (the tissues and organs that produce, store and carry white blood cells). Hodgkin’s disease is a type of lymphoma that develops in white blood cells.

Lymphomas that do not start in white blood cells are called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They may start in the bone marrow, spleen, thymus or lymph nodes and spread to other parts of the body.

The lymph system carries disease-fighting white blood cells throughout the body. It includes:

Lymph: Fluid that carries lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells, through the body in a network of lymph vessels, which are like tiny veins. Lymph helps fight against infection and cancer.

Lymph nodes: Tiny, bean-shaped masses in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen and groin. They filter lymph and store white blood cells to help the body fight disease.

Spleen: An organ on the left side of the abdomen that makes lymphocytes, stores blood cells and gets rid of old blood cells.

Thymus: Located in the chest, this tiny organ stores lymphocytes.

Tonsils: The are nodes in back of throat that produce lymphocytes.

Bone marrow: This is material in bones that produces blood cells.

Lymphoma anatomical illustration

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Types

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is divided into three types depending on the type of cells in the cancer. These types are:

  • B-cell, which makes up 85% of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases
  • T-cell
  • NK-cell

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is classified also by how quickly it spreads.

Low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma includes:

  • Marginal zone lymphoma
  • Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma
  • Follicular lymphoma
  • Mantle cell lymphoma

Intermediate grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma includes:

  • Diffuse large cell lymphoma
  • Primary mediastinal large cell lymphoma
  • Anaplastic large cell lymphoma

High-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma includes:

  • Burkitt’s lymphoma
  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma

Relapsed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is disease that comes back after you have been treated for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is new or relapsed disease that does not respond to treatment.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a risk factor. Although scientists don’t know yet what causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, some factors seem to make you more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These include:

  • Gender: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is slightly more common in men
  • Race: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is slightly more common in Caucasians
  • Living in a farming community. Some studies suggest that certain herbicides and pesticides may play a part in lymphoma, but this has not been proven
  • Bacteria or viruses, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV) and the bacterium Helicobacter pylori
  • Inherited syndromes

Not everyone with risk factors gets non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, if you have risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor.

In rare cases, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.

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