About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma


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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a disease where cancer cells form in the lymph system. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can begin in cells called B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes, or natural killer cells.

There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Each requires its own type of treatment. These are subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
  • Follicular lymphoma
  • Mantle cell lymphoma
  • Marginal zone lymphoma
  • Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma
  • T-cell lymphoma
  • Plasmablastic lymphoma

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Swelling in the neck, underarm, groin, or stomach
  • Night sweats
  • Fever for no known reason
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Unexplained pain in the chest, abdomen, or bones

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphomas from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of the Lymph System

anatomical drawing of the lymph system

Anatomy of the lymph system, showing the lymph vessels and lymph organs including lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow. Lymph (clear fluid) and lymphocytes travel through the lymph vessels and into the lymph nodes where the lymphocytes destroy harmful substances. The lymph enters the blood through a large vein near the heart.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the recommendations of the care team and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma: 

  • Watchful waiting
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Plasmapheresis
  • Antibiotic therapy
  • Stem cell transplant

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Hematologic Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with all types of blood cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and cancer screenings.

Find a Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Doctor

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Being male
  • Being white
  • Increasing age
  • Having an inherited immune disorder
  • Having an autoimmune disease
  • Being infected with HIV, human T-lymphotrophic virus type I, Epstein-Barr virus, or Helicobacter pylori
  • Taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Doctors use these tests to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They also look for abnormal amounts of blood cells.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: The health care provider removes a small sample of bone marrow to look for abnormal cells under a microscope.
  • Lymph node biopsy: The health care provider removes part or all of a lymph node to look for abnormal cells under a microscope. 

Stages of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

These are the stages used for non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Stage I, IE
  • Stage II, IIE
  • Stage IV

Here are explanations for the E and S labels of these stages:

  • E (Extranodal): This means that the cancer is outside the lymph system.
  • S (Spleen): This means that the cancer is in the spleen.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if non-Hodgkin lymphoma spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually non-Hodgkin lymphoma cells. The disease is metastatic non-Hodgkin lymphoma, not liver cancer.

Learn more about the stages of non-Hodgkin lymphoma from the National Cancer Institute.