Last reviewed: March 28, 2024

The lymph system is a combination of lymph nodes and vessels that move lymph fluid through the body. Lymph fluids carry infection-fighting white blood cells. Lymph nodes are the filters for capturing and destroying bacteria and viruses and keeping the infection from spreading in the body.

As the lymph system protects the body from viruses and infection, lymph cells named lymphocytes can be affected by cancer. Lymphoma denotes cancer that occurs in the lymph system. There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Researchers have classified over 70 types of lymphoma under the above-stated two categories of lymphoma. Lymphomas can attack any portion of the lymphatic system, including:

  • Thymus
  • Spleen
  • Bone marrow
  • Lymph nodes
  • Tonsils


When white blood cells named lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation and grow abundantly, it leads to the occurrence of lymphoma. The average lifetime of a lymphocyte cell is brief, and the cell dies shortly. With lymphoma, DNA changes inside the lymphocyte cells causing them to thrive and spread instead of dying. This leads to the creation of plenty many diseased and ineffective lymphocytes in the lymph nodes and results in swelling of lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.

The exact cause of DNA change is not clear. There are certain risk factors connected with lymphoma, however, those without the risk factors can also develop these cancers.


Signs and symptoms of lymphoma can include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Itching
  • Swollen glands

These symptoms can also indicate other disorders.

Types of lymphoma

There are two main types of lymphoma. These are named Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or NHL. Those suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma have large cancerous cells named Reed-Sternberg (RS) cells. Those with NHL do not have these cells.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:

According to ACS, the American Cancer Society, NHL is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s about 4% of all types of cancer.

Each category includes many types of lymphoma. Doctors name NHL types by the cells they affect the body. NHL forms in either the B cells or T cells of the immune system, whether the cell exibits fast or slow-growth.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma:

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, a part of the body’s bacteria-fighting immune system. Owing to the recent advancement in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, those with this disorder have a chance for a complete recovery. The prognosis continues its efforts to assist individuals with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Stages of lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are classified into four stages. The state of lymphoma is ascertained by where cancer exists and how far it has or has not spread.

  • Stage 1 - Cancer exists in one lymph node or one organ site.
  • Stage 2 - Cancer exists in two lymph nodes near to one another and on the same side of the body, or the cancer is present in one organ and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 - Cancer is in lymph nodes on either side of the diaphragm.
  • Stage 4 - Cancer can exist in one organ and spread beyond nearby lymph nodes. If NHL makes progress, it can start to spread. The most common sites for progressed NHL include the bone marrow, liver, and lungs. However, it is still treatable at this stage.

Risk factors

Risk factors of lymphoma can include:

  • Age - Certain types of lymphoma are more common in young adults, while other types are most often diagnosed in those over 55.
  • Being male - Men are slightly more likely to develop lymphoma than women.
  • Having an impaired immune system - Lymphoma is more often diagnosed in those with immune system diseases or in those who consume drugs that damage their immune system.
  • Developing certain infections - Certain infections lead to a higher risk of lymphoma. These include the Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori infection.


A doctor will often do a biopsy if he suspects lymphoma. This entails removing cells from an enlarged lymph node. Only a specialist known as a hematopathologist can examine the cells to determine if lymphoma cells do exist and what type of cells they are.

If the hematopathologist detects the presence of lymphoma cells, further tests will be taken to ascertain how far cancer has spread. The tests can include:

  • Testing nearby lymph nodes or tissues
  • Blood is tested for red and white blood cell and count
  • Chest X-ray
  • A bone marrow aspiration, where a small amount of fluid is taken from bone marrow for testing
  • A lumbar puncture (spinal tap), where a small amount of liquid from the spine is taken and tested.
  • An abdominal ultrasound

Imaging scans, such as MRI or CT scans can also help identify additional tumors or enlarged lymph nodes.


The treatment depends on the type of lymphoma and its present stage.

The common treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:

  • Radiation therapy - In this method high-energy rays are used to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy - The use of various drugs to destroy cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy - The use of substances to assist the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy - The method of targeting proteins that control how cancer cells spread, grow, and divide.
  • Stem cell transplant - Used if the above treatments don’t work.

Initially, the patient will get high doses of chemotherapy. This treatment destroys cancer cells, but it also kills stem cells in the bone marrow that produce new blood cells. After chemotherapy, the patient will get a transplant of stem cells to replace the diseased cells that were destroyed.

Stem cell transplant has two main types:

  • An allogeneic transplant that uses stem cells taken from someone else.
  • An autologous transplant that uses the patient’s own stem cells.

Work cited

This page was last reviewed and updated by on Mar 28, 2024.