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Lymphomas are either Hodgkin's lymphomas or non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. Hodgkin's lymphomas have a type of cell called Reed-Sternberg cells. Lymphomas without these cells are non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. This topic is about non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). To learn about Hodgkin's lymphoma, see the topic Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the lymph system in white blood cells called lymphocytes. When these cells become abnormal, they don't protect the body from infection or disease. They also grow without control and may form lumps of tissue called tumours.
NHL can start almost anywhere in the body. It may start in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or an organ such as the spleen. Or it can spread to almost any part of the body, including the liver and bone marrow.
There are many types of NHL. Sometimes they are grouped as:
Treatment can cure some people and may allow others to live for years. How long you live depends on the type of NHL you have and the stage of your disease (how far it has progressed).
The cause of NHL is not known. The abnormal cell changes may be triggered by an infection or exposure to something in the environment. Or it may be linked to gene changes (mutations). NHL is not contagious.
Symptoms of NHL include:
Your doctor will do a physical examination and ask you questions about your health. The examination includes checking the size of your lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, and groin.
Your doctor will take a piece of body tissue (biopsy) to diagnose NHL. The tissue usually is taken from a lymph node. You may have other tests to find out what kind of NHL you have.
Your treatment depends on the type of lymphoma you have, the stage of the disease, your age, and your general health. You may not need treatment until you have symptoms. NHL is usually treated with chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation or radiation with chemotherapy may be used. Or you may have targeted therapy with monoclonal antibodies.
If treatment doesn't work, or if NHL comes back after initial treatment, you may have chemotherapy along with a stem cell transplant.
Experts don't know what causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL).
When a person has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, abnormal rapid cell growth occurs. This abnormal growth may need a "trigger" to start, such as an infection or exposure to something in your environment. There is also a link between NHL and problems with the immune system.
NHL is not contagious and is not caused by injury.
Symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) include:
In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), white blood cells called lymphocytes divide and grow without order or control. The abnormal lymphocytes usually are either B-cell or T-cell lymphocytes. But most cases of NHL involve B-cell lymphocytes.
Lymph tissue is present in many areas of the body, so NHL can start almost anywhere in the body. It may occur in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or an organ. And it can spread to almost any part of the body, including the liver, bone marrow, and spleen.
NHL may be classified as:
Over time, lymphoma cells may replace the normal cells in the bone marrow. Bone marrow failure results in the inability to produce red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells that fight infection, and platelets that stop bleeding.
Long-term survival depends on the type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and the stage of the disease when it is diagnosed. About 80 out of 100 people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are alive 1 year after the disease is diagnosed. That number drops to about 67 out of 100 at 5 years, and 57 out of 100 at 10 years.footnote 1
Some things can increase your chances of getting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). These things are called risk factors. But many people who get non-Hodgkin's lymphoma don't have any of these risk factors. And some people who have risk factors don't get the disease.
Risk factors include:footnote 2
Call your doctor to schedule an appointment if you have had any symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, such as:
Your family doctor or general practitioner can help diagnose non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). You will be referred to specialists for further testing and treatment.
When NHL is suspected, a tissue sample (biopsy) is needed to make a diagnosis. A biopsy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is usually taken from a lymph node. But other tissues may be sampled as well. A surgeon will remove a sample of tissue so that a pathologist can examine it under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is usually treated by a hematologist or a medical oncologist. If you need radiation therapy, you will also see a radiation oncologist.
If non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is suspected, your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical examination. This examination includes checking for enlarged lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, and groin.
A tissue sample (biopsy) is needed to make a diagnosis. A biopsy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is usually taken from a lymph node, but other tissues may be sampled as well.
A bone marrow aspiration and biopsy is usually done to find out if lymphoma cells are present in the bone marrow.
Your doctor may also order other tests, including:
Treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) depends on:
Your doctor will work with you and your medical team (which may include an oncologist, a hematologist, and an oncology nurse) to come up with your treatment plan.
A common concern of cancer patients are the side effects of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Your medical team will let you know ahead of time what side effects you can expect and help you manage them. And there are things you can do at home. To learn more, see Home Treatment.
Sometimes NHL comes back after treatment. This is called recurrence or relapse. Treatments for recurrent NHL include chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of the two. This treatment may be followed by a stem cell transplant.
You will need regular examinations after you have been treated for NHL.
Let your doctor know if you have any problems as soon as they appear.
Finding out that you have cancer can change your life. You may feel like your world has turned upside down and you have lost all control. Talking with family, friends, or a counsellor can really help. Ask your doctor about support groups. Or visit the Canadian Cancer Society website at www.cancer.ca.
For support in managing the many changes that having cancer can bring, see the topic Getting Support When You Have Cancer.
Your doctor may use the term "remission" instead of "cure" when talking about the effectiveness of your treatment. Although many people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are successfully treated, the term remission is used because cancer can return. It is important to discuss with your doctor the possibility of recurrence.
Even after effective treatment for NHL, you may be at slightly higher risk for other types of cancer, especially melanoma, lung, brain, kidney, and bladder cancers. Be watchful for any symptoms of cancer.
You can find more information about treating non-Hodgkin's lymphoma online at the:
Cancer treatment has two main goals: curing cancer and making your quality of life as good as possible. Hospice palliative care can improve your quality of life by helping you manage your symptoms. It can also help you with other concerns that you may have when you are living with a serious illness.
For some people who have advanced cancer, a time comes when treatment to cure cancer no longer seems like a good choice. This can be because the side effects, time, and costs of treatment are greater than the promise of cure or relief. But this isn't the end of treatment. Hospice palliative care providers will work to help manage pain and other symptoms or side effects. They may help you decide what treatment you want or don't want. And they can help your loved ones understand how to support you.
It can be hard to decide when to stop treatment aimed at prolonging your life and shift the focus to end-of-life care. You and your doctor can decide when you may be ready for hospice palliative care.
To learn about the different types of supportive care, see:
There is no known way to prevent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL).
You can do things at home to help manage your side effects. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat these symptoms, be sure to follow them. In general, healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep and exercise may help control your symptoms.
Other problems that can be treated at home include:
Having cancer can be very stressful, and it may feel overwhelming to face the challenges in front of you. Finding new ways of coping with the symptoms of stress may improve your overall quality of life.
These ideas may help:
Your doctor may prescribe medicines that will affect the growth of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and relieve your symptoms.
Chemotherapy may be used alone or with radiation therapy. Sometimes a combination of chemotherapy medicines is more effective than a single drug.
The most commonly used combination is called CHOP. It combines four medicines: cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone.
Your doctor will work with you to find the best medicine for the type of lymphoma you have.
Chemotherapy causes many side effects. For help with how to deal with these, see Home Treatment. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to control nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.
Targeted therapy uses monoclonal antibodies in medicine that is injected into the body so these antibodies can attach to cancer cells and destroy them. The monoclonal antibodies used to treat NHL include:
Some treatments use interferon or antibiotic medicines. Your doctor will suggest the treatment that works best for your kind of lymphoma.
You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after chemotherapy treatment. Discuss fertility issues with your doctor before starting treatment. Chemotherapy medicines can also cause birth defects. If you are pregnant or wish to father a child, discuss the risk of birth defects with your doctor before using any chemotherapy medicine.
Surgery is often used to obtain a biopsy sample when non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is being diagnosed or classified. But surgery is rarely used for treatment.
Radiation therapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) may be given in different ways.
A stem cell transplant may be used to treat NHL that is in remission or that has come back. Stem cells may be obtained from blood, through a peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT). Or stem cells can be obtained from bone, in a bone marrow transplant (BMT). PBSCT is the most common method for treating NHL.
A stem cell transplant may be done right after you have very high-dose chemotherapy. (You may also have radiation to your entire body.) The stem cell transplant is done to replace your damaged bone marrow cells with healthy stem cells. A stem cell transplant may be offered as part of standard treatment or in a clinical trial.
Clinical trials are research studies that try to find better NHL treatments. Your doctor may suggest that you join a clinical trial. Some treatments being used in clinical trials include lymphoma vaccines and stem cell transplants with high-dose chemotherapy. If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial, check with your doctor to see if any are available in your area.
People sometimes use complementary therapies along with medical treatment to help relieve symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments. Some of the complementary therapies that may be helpful include:
These mind-body treatments may help you feel better. They can make it easier to cope with treatment. They also may reduce chronic low back pain, joint pain, headaches, and pain from treatments.
Before you try a complementary therapy, talk to your doctor about the possible value and potential side effects. Let your doctor know if you are already using any such therapies. They are not meant to take the place of standard medical treatment.
CitationsAmerican Cancer Society (2011). Cancer Facts and Figures 2011. Atlanta: American Cancer Society. Available online: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-029771.pdf.Freedman AS, et al. (2015). Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer Principles and Practices of Oncology, 10th ed., pp. 1552–1583. Philadelphia: Walters Kluwer.
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineDouglas A. Stewart, MD, FRCPC - Medical Oncology
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Douglas A. Stewart, MD, FRCPC - Medical Oncology
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