Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is the difference between non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease (or Hodgkin's lymphoma)?

Both of these cancers are lymphomas, a cancer that begins in lymphocytes. The main difference is which subset of lymphocytes are involved. This can be established by looking at the cells under a microscope as well as with additional tests to characterize the tumor cells. Distinguishing the type of lymphoma is important because treatment, disease course, and prognosis can be quite different.

What causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

We don't know what causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). NHL occurs when the body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes. In the normal life cycle of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell), old lymphocytes die and the body creates new ones to replenish the supply. In NHL, lymphocytes grow indefinitely, so the number of circulating lymphocytes increases, filling up the lymph nodes and causing them to swell.

In NHL, either B cells or T cells are involved in this process. These are the two subtypes of lymphocytes.

B cells produce antibodies that fight infections. This is the most common type of cell involved in NHL.

T cells kill the foreign substances directly. NHL less frequently originates from T cells.

The following are some of the common subtypes of NHL:

Burkitt's lymphoma: This lymphoma has two major subtypes, an African type closely associated with an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus and the non-African, or sporadic, form that is not linked to the virus.

Diffuse large cell lymphoma: This represents the most common lymphoma (approximately 30% of NHL) and can be rapidly fatal if not treated.

Follicular lymphoma: These lymphomas exhibit a specific growth pattern when viewed under the microscope (follicular or nodular pattern); they are usually advanced at the time of diagnosis.

MALT lymphoma: This is a B cell lymphoma that usually affects individuals in their 60s. The most common area for this lymphoma to develop is the stomach.

Mantle cell lymphoma: One of the rarest of the NHL, mantle cell lymphoma accounts for about 6% of cases. This NHL is difficult to treat and is a subtype of B cell lymphoma.

Adult T cell lymphoma/leukemia: This is a rare but aggressive NHL of the immune system's T cells. Human T cell leukemia/lymphotropic virus type (HTLV-1) is believed to be the cause.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/14/2016

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