What is adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a malignant cancer that begins in the lymph system. The lymph system is part of the body’s immune system. “Malignant” means a disease spreads from where it starts and invades other areas of the body. Adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma differs from lymphoma in children and has a different course of treatment. “Non-Hodgkin’s” means the absence of a certain type of cell, called Reed-Sternberg cells, in the cancerous tissue.

The lymph includes the following:

  • Bone marrow – The spongy interior of large bones where white blood cells, red blood cells (which carry oxygen), and platelets (which help blood clot) are made.
  • Lymph – Colorless, watery fluid that carries white blood cells (lymphocytes) through the vessels of the lymph system all through the body. Lymphocytes can be either B-cells or T-cells. Their job is to fight disease and the growth of tumors.
  • Lymph vessels – Tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and send it back to the bloodstream.
  • Lymph nodes – Small oval or round structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body but are concentrated in the underarms, pelvis, neck, abdomen and groin.
  • Thymus – An organ behind the breastbone in which lymphocytes grow and reproduce.
  • Spleen – An organ on the left side of the body near the stomach. The spleen filters blood, stores blood cells, and removes old blood cells. It also makes lymphocytes.
  • Tonsils – Lymph tissue in the back of the throat that makes lymphocytes.

Because the lymph system is present throughout the body, lymphoma can begin in almost any area and spread to other tissues and organs such as the liver.

What are the risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

  • Being older, male, or Caucasian
  • Having any of the following conditions:
  • Use of immunosuppressant drugs following an organ transplant
  • Exposure to certain pesticides
  • Exposure to radiation
  • A diet containing high amounts of meat and fat
  • Previous treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma

How common is adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

An estimated 70,800 people (38,270 men and 32,530 women) in the US were diagnosed with NHL in 2013, making it the sixth most common cancer in women and the seventh most common cancer in men.

What are the symptoms of adult non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

  • Painless swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck, underarm, groin, or stomach
  • Unexplained fever
  • Heavy night sweats
  • Feeling much more tired than usual for at least several weeks for no apparent reason
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Skin rash or itchy skin
  • Unexplained pain in the chest, abdomen, or bones

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