Key Points about Hodgkin's Lymphoma
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the rarer of the two types of cancer that affect the lymphatic system.
- Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy, blood tests and physical exams to diagnose Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, stem cell transplant and/or radiation therapy.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of your body’s immune system. Abnormal cells grow out of control and may even spread beyond the lymphatic system.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma most often affects people between the ages of 20 and 40 or older than age 55. This condition was previously known as Hodgkin’s disease. The other type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system – known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – is much more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The two main types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma are:
- Classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma – the most common type of this disease causes the growth of large, abnormal cells known as Reed-Sternberg cells in the lymph nodes.
- Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma – the much rarer type of the disease that causes abnormal cells, known as popcorn cells, due to their unusual appearance.
Hodgkin's lymphoma causes
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is caused when a certain type of cell – called a lymphocyte – develops a mutation (change) to its DNA. The mutated cell then multiplies quickly, causing the cancer to grow out of control.
Hodgkin's lymphoma risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
- Being between the ages of 20 and 40, or older than 55
- Being male
- Having a family history of lymphoma (either Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
- Having a past Epstein-Barr infection
Hodgkin's lymphoma symptoms
The following can be signs or symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
- Extreme itchiness
- Increased sensitivity to alcohol or pain in the lymph nodes that worsens after drinking alcohol
- Night sweats
- Painless growth of the lymph nodes in your armpits, neck or groin
- Unintentional weight loss
Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. Your doctor will check your lymph nodes for swelling or unusual growth.
- Blood tests – your doctor will send a sample of your blood to the laboratory for close analysis. The lab can determine if the blood has unusual markers, which could mean that you have Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Bone marrow biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from your bone marrow (spongy material inside the bones). This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancerous cells, such as Reed-Sternberg cells.
- Lymph node biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from a lymph node. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancerous cells, such as Reed-Sternberg cells.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the suspected cancer. Your doctor can also use the CT scan to help determine if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site.
Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Bone marrow transplant – also known as a stem cell transplant, this treatment involves infusing your diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow. Doing so can help your body fight the cancer.
- Chemotherapy – during this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells.
- Targeted therapy – in this treatment, specialized medications kill cancerous blood cells. Targeted therapy may help preserve more surrounding healthy tissue than other treatment options.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.