Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

What is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, also known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma or NHL, is a form of cancer that has an effect on the lymphatic system. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is more common, accounting for around 80 percent of cases. It is only possible to tell the difference between the two forms of lymphoma by examining the cancerous cells under a microscope. A cell known as the Reed-Sternberg cell is found in almost all cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma, while it is not apparent in cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. More than 11,800 cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are diagnosed every year in the UK.

Types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

There are many different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and they are classed according to the type of cell they affected, categorising them as either B-cell or T-cell lymphomas.

What causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

In most cases the cause of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is unknown and some people who are diagnosed with the disease could have no risk factors. However, research has identified the following risk factors which are known to increase the risk of developing the disease:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Cancer treatment in the past (although the risk is only increased very slightly)
  • Family history
  • Infection with some forms of virus
  • Coeliac disease

Symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes which are present as painless swellings in the armpit, groin and neck
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained itching
  • Unexplained weight loss

Many of the symptoms can be concurrent with other health conditions, but you should see your GP if your symptoms persist.

How is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosed?

If your clinician thinks that you have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma they will recommend you to a specialist for more thorough testing, which will be carried out in hospital. The only test that can be used to reach a firm diagnosis is a lymph node biopsy test.

How is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treated?

The treatment pathway will usually depend on the grade of the cancer. Low-grade lymphoma is regularly treated with chemotherapy, while high-grade lymphoma is treated with a combination of chemotherapy and steroids.

What is the outlook for people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

The outlook depends on the grade of the cancer and when diagnosis is made. Low- grade lymphoma can usually be managed and controlled effectively and the earlier the diagnosis the better the chance of survival. High-grade lymphoma is usually more difficult to treat but it tends to respond well to treatment, with around 60 percent of people finding a successful cure.

Living with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Living with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can be extremely difficult and you may feel angry, upset and confused all at the same time, as you struggle to come to accept your diagnosis. If you need information, advice or somebody to talk to, you can contact one of the cancer charities offering support in the UK.

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