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What is Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

  • Category: Cancer
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
What is Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma, also called Hodgkin disease, is a type of cancer that originates in the white blood cells and is found in the lymphatic tissue of the immune system. The lymphatic system is made up of nodes connected by vessels that fight infections by filtering out fluid and waste from the body. Lymphoma occurs when the lymph nodes or the lymphocytes begin to multiply uncontrollably, producing malignant cells that begin to invade other tissues throughout the body.

There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). HL accounts for roughly 10 percent of lymphoma cases with NHL making up the remaining 90 percent. The main difference between HL and NHL is the specific type of cancer cell each involves. A doctor determines the difference between Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma by examining the cancer cells under a microscope. The lymphoma is classified as Hodgkin when the presence of a specific type of abnormal cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell is detected.

Lymphoma can start almost anywhere, as lymph tissue is found in many parts of body including the spleen, bone marrow, digestive tract and in the adenoids and tonsils. HL is most commonly found in the upper part of the body in the chest, neck, or under the arms and spreads from lymph node to lymph node. It is rare, but not uncommon for HL to spread to the liver and lungs, and it can invade the bloodstream as the cancer progresses.

The most common symptom of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is swollen or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, upper chest, or groin that are often painless. Other signs and symptoms of lymphoma can include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Severe itching
  • Abnormal or increased sensitivity to alcohol or pain in your lymph nodes after drinking alcohol

The exact cause of Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not yet known, but there are several risk factors associated with them both.

  • Age- Most people who are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma are young adults ages 15 to 35 years old or those who are over the age of 50.
  • Gender- Caucasian males are at a higher risk for developing HL. In children, 85 percent of cases occur in boys.
  • Family history- Identical twins and those people with siblings who have Hodgkin disease are at a higher risk of developing it too. However, most people with HL don’t have a family history of it.
  • Weakened immune system- People who are taking immunosuppressant medications after having had an organ transplant or those who have HIV have a higher risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Epstein-Barr virus- Having been infected with the virus that causes mononucleosis, also called mono, is known to increase your risk of developing HL. The gene found in mono is also found in twenty to eighty percent of Hodgkin lymphoma tumors.

There are many subtypes of lymphoma, and your doctor will use lab tests to determine your specific subtype. HL and NHL spread, behave, and respond to treatment differently, so it is important to know and understand which type of cancer you have. Treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma will vary depending on the stage of the disease, with chemotherapy and radiation being the main treatment options. Advances in detection and treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the last decade have significantly increased the survival rate for those diagnosed.