Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune (infection-fighting) system. It affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are made in bone marrow, lymph nodes (lymph glands), and spleen. NHL is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Most cases occur in men and women, usually older than 60.
The cause is unknown. Weakening of the immune system by viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), organ transplantation medicines, and too much radiation may increase risks.
The most common symptoms are swollen, painless lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin. Others include fever, chills, soaking night sweats, coughing, trouble breathing, chest pain, weakness, tiredness, weight loss, swollen legs and face, and abdominal pain and swelling. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headache, and itching can occur.
The doctor will make a diagnosis from a medical history, physical examination, blood tests, and lymph gland and bone marrow biopsy. In a biopsy, tissue taken from a gland or bone marrow is studied with a microscope. Other tests may include laparotomy, which is surgery on the abdomen (belly). X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) may be done for staging.
An oncologist (specialist in cancer treatment) will be involved in the care.
Low-grade lymphomas have a longer life expectancy but cannot be cured. With aggressive treatment, some intermediate and high-grade lymphomas can be cured. About 60% of NHLs can be cured.
Some NHLs grow so slowly that treatments are given only if symptoms occur. This is called watching and waiting.
Medicines, radiation, and maybe bone marrow transplantation are used for treatment. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth or through a vein in the hospital, or at home or the doctor’s office. Biological treatment uses medicines made from substances produced by the body’s immune system. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays from machines or injections.
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