Key Points about Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one type of lymphoma and typically affects people older than 60.
- Doctors use biopsy, blood tests, imaging tests and physical exams to diagnose non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, stem cell transplant, immunotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. This condition causes a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes to grow out of control.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one category of cancer known as lymphomas; the other type is Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma causes
This condition is caused when the body produces excessive amounts of lymphocytes.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
- Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as pesticides and insecticides
- Being older, especially over age 60
- Having certain infections, such as Epstein-Barr infection
- Having certain viruses, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Having the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
- Taking certain medications that suppress your immune system
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma symptoms
Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Night sweats
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
- Persistent fatigue
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, neck or groin
- Unintentional weight loss
Non-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.
- Blood tests – your doctor will send a sample of your blood to the laboratory for close analysis. The lab can analyze your blood sample to rule out any infections or another disease that could have similar symptoms.
- 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 lymphoma cells.
- Imaging tests – your doctor may order imaging tests – such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scan or positron emission tomography (PET) scan – to look for lymphoma cells in your body.
- Lymph node biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from your lymph node. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for lymphoma cells.
- Urine tests – your doctor will send a sample of your urine to the laboratory for close analysis. The lab can analyze your urine sample to rule out any infections or another disease that could have similar symptoms.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Watchful waiting – if you are not experiencing any symptoms related to your non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, you may not need to undergo treatment immediately. In this case, you will see your specialist for regular visits and testing to monitor the condition.
- 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).
- Immunotherapy – this treatment uses your body’s immune system to fight the cancerous cells.
- 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.