Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system drains excess fluid from the blood and protects against infection. Hodgkin lymphoma is different from other forms of lymphoma.
The Lymphatic System
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body—in this case a type of white blood cell called lymphocyte—divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissue and can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.
The exact causes that lead to Hodgkin lymphoma are unknown. It is likely related to complex genetic and environmental factors that lead to changes in the immune system. There is some compelling evidence to suggest an association with certain viral infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or HIV.
Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in men and people ages 15-40 and over 55 years of age. Other factors that may increase your chance of Hodgkin lymphoma include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, paying particular attention to your lymph nodes.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Your internal bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Abdominal surgery may be needed to remove the spleen and to biopsy the liver. This is not common because of the accuracy of noninvasive scans.
Hodgkin lymphoma is generally considered one of the more curable forms of cancer. Treatment options include:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
In radiation therapy, radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body to kill the cancer cells.
In many cases, both chemotherapy and radiation are used to cure a patient of Hodgkin lymphoma. The choice of treatments will be based on:
It is important that you be seen by both the medical oncologist to discuss chemotherapy and the radiation oncologist to discuss the radiation therapy. The best treatment results come from a discussion and integrated approach.
If the cancer does not respond to chemotherapy or radiation, the outcome is usually poor. There are some treatment options available, including:
Splenectomy is the surgical removal of the spleen, an organ that is part of the lymphatic system. In some cases, splenectomy is recommended in people who have lymphoma.
There are no guidelines for preventing Hodgkin lymphoma because the cause is unknown.
American Cancer Society
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Canadian Cancer Society
General information about adult Hodgkin lymphoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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Accessed February 25, 2015.
Hodgkin disease. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed March 3, 2014.
Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114957/Hodgkin-lymphoma-HL. Updated July 29, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013
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