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What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer and is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps protect our bodies from infection and disease and is made up of cells and organs including the thymus, bone marrow, spleen, tonsils, appendix. Specifically, lymphoma is a cancer that affects lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Knowing which type of lymphoma you have is important because it affects your treatment options and your outlook.

Types of Lymphoma

Many sub-types of lymphoma exist, but the two main types are:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma (also called Hodgkin disease) – a blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system usually from unhealthy B lymphocyte cells and is categorized by the presence of an abnormal lymphocyte called the Reed-Sternberg cell. It is the least common of the two main types of lymphoma.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system from unhealthy lymphocyte cells. It is the most common type of lymphoma and it usually begins in unhealthy B lymphocytes (B cells) or T lymphocytes (T cells).

Signs & Symptoms

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause many different signs and symptoms, depending on the type of lymphoma and where it is in the body. Sometimes it does not cause any symptoms until it grows quite large.

Some common signs and symptoms of lymphoma may include:

  • Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchy skin

Symptoms listed here could also be caused by other conditions, such as an infection. Make an appointment with your physician if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

Risk Factors & Prevention

Factors that can increase the risk of lymphoma include:

  • Age – Some types of lymphoma are more common in young adults, while others are most often diagnosed in people over 55.
  • Sex – Males are slightly more likely to develop lymphoma than are females.
  • Having an impaired immune system. Lymphoma is more common in people with immune system diseases or in people who take drugs that suppress their immune system.
  • Developing certain infections. Some infections are associated with an increased risk of lymphoma, including the Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori infection.

At this time, there are no widely recommended screening tests for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The best way to find lymphoma early is to pay attention to possible signs and symptoms and regular medical check-ups for people with known risk factors for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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