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Lymphoma: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Written by Markus MacGill,
Reviewed by Dr Helen Webberley
Last updated: Mon 10 August 2015

Read article on Medical News Today

Lymphoma is a form of cancer that affects the immune system – specifically, it is a cancer of immune cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. There are two broad types of lymphoma and many subtypes.

The two types of lymphoma are described as: Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s.

Lymphoma can occur at any age but is the most common cancer in young people. It is often very treatable, and most people live for a long time after being diagnosed.

Use this page for comprehensive and easy-to-follow information about lymphoma – both non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Contents of this article:

What is lymphoma?
Types of lymphoma?
What causes lymphoma?
Signs and symptoms
Tests and diagnosis
Treatment and prevention
Prognosis for lymphoma

You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT’s news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.

Fast facts on lymphoma

Here are some key points about lymphoma. More detail and supporting information is in the body of this article.

  • Lymphoma is cancer that develops in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system.
  • The two main types of lymphoma are non-Hodgkin’s (about 90% of cases) and Hodgkin’s (about 10%).
  • The main symptom is usually enlargement of lymph nodes that does not go away (as it does after infection).
  • There are an estimated 761,659 people living with, or in remission from, lymphoma in the US.3
  • For Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an estimated 177,526 people are living with the disease or are in remission.
  • For non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an estimated 584,133 people are living with the disease or are in remission.
  • There are around 79,990 new cases of lymphoma diagnosed in the US each year (9,190 cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 70,800 cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
  • Around 20,170 die from lymphoma (1,180 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 18,990 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) per year in the US.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in the US, and age-adjusted incidence rose by 77.3% from 1975 to 2011.
  • Lymphoma cannot be prevented, but survival rates after treatment are good.


What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymph system (or lymphatic system), which is part of our immunity. It is characterized by the formation of solid tumors in the immune system. The cancer affects immune cells called lymphocytes, which are white blood cells.

Statistics from the US National Cancer Institute estimate that there are nearly 20 cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for every 100,000 people in the American population.2

Hodgkin’s lymphoma, meanwhile, is relatively rare, with around three cases in every 100,000 people.3

About 90% of lymphomas are the non-Hodgkin’s type while about 10% are Hodgkin’s.1

Cancer is a group of over 100 diseases, all of which start with the growth of abnormal cells. Instead of dying in the normal cell life cycle, cancerous cells continue to divide into new abnormal cells, and grow out of control.4

Lymphatic cancers are classified by the type of immune cells affected.

In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, B-cells and T-cells are affected – both being types of lymphocyte white blood cell with special roles in immunity. In the US, B-cell lymphomas are much more common than T-cell ones.5

In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the cancer cells are usually an abnormal type of B lymphocyte, named Reed-Sternberg cells. There are many subtypes of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, typed by differences seen under the microscope – but a very high percentage of cases are classed as “classic” Hodgkin’s

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