Conditions InDepth: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
by Debra Wood, RN and Michael Jubinville, MPH
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Cancer is a disease in which cells grow in an abnormal way. Normally, new cells develop in a controlled manner to replace old or damaged cells. With lymphoma, white blood cells develop abnormally and grow at an abnormal rate.
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system that helps fight off infections and illnesses. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can make the body more vulnerable to other illnesses and infections.
Normal Anatomy and the Development of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
All blood cells start as stem cells in the bone marrow. Stem cells then mature into a variety of different blood cell types that have specific functions in the body. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is an abnormality with a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. There are different types of lymphocytes, but the main types are:
The lymphatic system is a network of fluid, vessels, organs, and lymph nodes throughout the body that carry fluids and immune cells throughout the body. Lymphoid tissues and organs include:
Lymphatic tissue can also be found throughout the body in the digestive tract, nervous system, and skin.
With non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there is an excessive development abnormal lymphocytes. The cancerous cells are not able to carry out their normal function. The abnormal lymphocytes can also crowd out healthy cells in the lymph nodes decreasing the number of effective cells and weakening the immune system. Cancerous blood cells also circulate in the blood and lymph systems and can gather in organs like the spleen, bone marrow, lungs, and liver.
Types of Lymphoma
Lymphoma is a cancer of a type of blood cell called white blood cells. Nearly all non-Hodgkin lymphomas develop in a type of white blood cell known as the B-cell lymphocytes. Other types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma arise from other white blood cells known as T-cell lymphocytes and NK cells. There are approximately another 60 subtypes of lymphomas that are determined by how the cancer cells appear under a microscope, the type of cell the cancer starts in, the presence of specific proteins, and its DNA make-up. These characteristics will help determine treatment steps and prognosis.
Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are also described by the rate of disease progression:
Lymphomas grow and develop differently, which affects the choice and course of treatment.
What are the risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
How is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed?
What are the treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Are there screening tests for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
How can I reduce my risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
What is it like to live with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Where can I get more information about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment (PDQ)—patient version. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/lymphoma/patient/adult-nhl-treatment-pdq. Updated December 8, 2017. Accessed March 30, 2018.
NHL subtypes. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at:
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Accessed March 30, 2018.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated January 9, 2018. Accessed March 30, 2018.
Non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/lymphomas/non-hodgkin-lymphomas. Updated October 2012. Accessed March 30, 2018.
Types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/about/types-of-non-hodgkin-lymphoma.html. Updated March 24, 2017. Accessed March 30, 2018.
What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma? American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/about/what-is-non-hodgkin-lymphoma.html. Updated May 31, 2016. Accessed March 30, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/30/2016
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