Hodgkin's Lymphoma

What is the lymph system?

The lymph (lymphatic) system helps the body fight infections and other diseases. It's made up of tissue and organs:

  • Lymph vessels: The lymph system has a network of lymph vessels. Lymph vessels branch into all the tissues of the body.
  • Lymph: Lymph vessels carry clear fluid (lymph). Lymph contains white blood cells, especially lymphocytes such as B cells and T cells.
  • Lymph nodes: Lymph vessels are connected to small, round organs called lymph nodes. Groups of lymph nodes are found in the neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, and groin. Lymph nodes store white blood cells. They trap and remove harmful substances that may be in lymph.
  • Other parts of the lymph system: Other parts of the lymph system include the tonsils, thymus, and spleen. Lymph tissue is also found in other parts of the body including the stomach, skin, and small intestine.
This picture shows the lymph system -- tonsils, thymus, lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and spleen.
This picture shows the lymph system -- tonsils, thymus, lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and spleen.

What is Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma starts in the lymph system, usually in a lymph node. The disease may be found because of a swollen lymph node in the neck, chest, or other areas.

The disease begins when a lymphocyte (almost always a B cell) becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell divides to make copies of itself. The copies keep dividing, making more abnormal cells that build up.

When white blood cells collect around the abnormal cells, the lymph node that contains abnormal cells becomes swollen. Abnormal cells may spread through the lymph vessels or blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Although normal cells die when they get old or damaged, abnormal cells don't die. Also unlike normal cells, abnormal cells can't help the body fight infections.

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