What is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymph system. The lymph system is part of the immune system. It’s made up of a network of lymph nodes, ducts, and other tissues throughout the body. The immune system helps fight off infections and other diseases.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. It begins in one or more of the following lymph nodes:

  • Lymph nodes. These are small, bean-shaped glands that are part of the immune system. They’re found throughout the body.
  • Glands. These are structures that are part of the immune system and can become cancerous. They’re found in the digestive system, reproductive system, and other areas.
  • Lymph vessels. These are tubes that carry lymph throughout the body.

There are two main types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The type that you’re most likely to develop depends on the type of lymphoma you have.

Epstein-Barr virus-associated non-Hodgkin lymphoma

This type of lymphoma is the result of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is a virus that’s carried by most people. It’s known to cause mononucleosis, or “mono” in patients. Mono is an infection that’s usually mild and lasts for a few weeks.

EBV is a very common virus. It’s estimated that 90 to 95 percent of adults have EBV. It’s rare in children. It’s also possible for a person to have EBV and not develop EBV-associated lymphoma.

EBV-associated lymphomas are classified as either primary or secondary.

Primary EBV-associated lymphomas

Primary EBV-associated lymphomas develop when EBV is present in the body.

Secondary EBV-associated lymphomas

Secondary EBV-associated lymphomas develop when EBV is present in the body. They can develop in people who have been infected with EBV but don’t have symptoms of mono. Some people have an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being infected with EBV.

This type of lymphoma is also called:

  • Latent
  • Chronic
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

CLL is also called chronic lymphoproliferative disorder. It causes the lymphocytes, or white blood cells, to grow and multiply quickly. This leads to an increase in the number of abnormal lymphocytes in the body, which can lead to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma

Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL) develops in the mediastinum, which is the area between the lungs and the trachea (windpipe). This type of lymphoma develops in the lymph nodes in the mediastinum.

Mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s also known as:

  • Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
  • Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, NOS (non-specific)

The symptoms of this type of lymphoma vary depending on the location of the lymphoma.

The symptoms of PMBCL may include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

Primary central nervous system lymphoma

Primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL) develops in the brain or spinal cord. This type of lymphomas is also called primary brain lymphoma (PBL).

PCNSL can develop in the following areas of the body:

  • Cranial cavity
  • Cranial nerves
  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Central nervous system

PCNSL may cause:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Loss of consciousness

Primary central nervous system lymphoma can also become systemic (spread to other areas of the body).

Symptoms of PCNSL may include:

  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vision problems
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Severe neck pain
  • Severe fatigue
  • Severe weight loss
  • Head movement problems

Types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The three main types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, NOS (not otherwise specified)
  • T-cell lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s also known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s also called Hodgkin’s disease.

It develops in the lymph nodes and other lymph tissues. It’s the result of the body’s immune system attacking the lymph nodes. Hodgkin lymphoma can be either nodular or extranodular.

Nodular Hodgkin lymphoma

Nodular Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common type of Hodgkin lymphoma. It develops in lymph nodes. Most people with nodular Hodgkin lymphoma have this type of lymph node involvement.

It’s also known as classic Hodgkin lymphoma.

Extranodular Hodgkin lymphoma

Extranodular Hodgkin lymphoma is the second most common type of Hodgkin lymphoma. It develops in lymph tissues that aren’t located in lymph nodes.

It’s also known by the following names:

  • Nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Nodular lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Nodular lymphocytic Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Unclassified Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, NOS

This type is also called NOS (not otherwise specified). It’s a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

It’s rare. It’s usually treated with chemotherapy.

T-cell lymphoma

This type is also called T-cell or natural killer (NK) cell lymphoma. It’s a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s more common in people who have HIV.

It develops in the lymph nodes, spleen, or other lymph organs. It’s known as mature T-cell lymphoma. It’s usually treated with chemotherapy.

The takeaway

Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas are both types of lymphoma. They’re both types of cancer.

Both types of lymphoma can develop in the lymph nodes. They’re both types of cancer that affect the lymph system. They’re both types of cancer that can lead to cancer that spreads to other parts of the body.

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