Cancer InDepth: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
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Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps protect the body against infection and disease. It consists of a network of lymph vessels and small organs that are called lymph nodes, which are located throughout the body. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the neck, groin, chest, abdomen and underarms. Lymph nodes produce and store the white blood cells, which help the body fight infection and disease.
The Lymphatic Organs
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a general name given to many types of cancer found in the lymphatic system. These cancers are different from Hodgkin's lymphoma (Hodgkin's disease), a related type of cancer.
Lymphoma occurs when lymph cells, or lymphocytes, divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and can spread to other parts of the body.
Lymphomas may begin in the lymph nodes or other lymph tissue. There are two main types of lymphocytes—B cells and T cells. B cells are more likely to become cancerous than T cells. B cells normally help fight bacteria and produce antibodies. Antibodies attach to the cell surface and attract other cells to surround and destroy the bacteria. T cells fight viruses, fungi, and some types of bacteria. They destroy the invader and release a substance that attracts white blood cells to the infected cells. T cells also may protect against some types of caners. There are several types of T cells.
Who Is Affected
About 53,900 Americans will be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma this year, according to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It is the fifth most common cancer in the United States. About 289,390 people in the United States live with the disease. The five-year survival rates for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have increased from 47% in 1974 to 55% in 2002. In children, the five-year survival rate is even better, at 78%. Prognosis varies, depending on the type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. About 24,400 people will die this year from the disease, 13,500 males and 12,300 females. A growing number of older adults are developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects more men than women. Caucasians are more likely to develop the disease than African Americans or Asian Americans. The risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also increases with age; the early 40s is the average age at diagnosis.
Causes and Complications
The cause of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is unknown. Infections and exposure to environmental toxins are thought to play some role in the development of some cases. But a causal relationship has not yet been proven.
Complications occur when tumors compress vital structures, such as the trachea (windpipe) or the superior vena cava, a major vein connecting to the heart.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is rarely cured in patients who present with advanced disease that has spread to more than one lymph node area. However, remissions may last for decades. And researchers are developing new, promising treatments to combat this disease.
This Report Covers the Following:
Abeloff, M. Clinical Oncology , 2nd ed., Orlando, FL: Churchill Livingstone, Inc.; 2000: 2658-2701.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Rakel, R. Conn's Current Therapy 2002 , 54th ed., St. Louis, MO: W. B. Saunders Company; 2002: 434-439.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Last reviewed February 2003 by
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