Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

What is Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL)?

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is a major part of the immune system. It is a cancer of the white blood cells in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body, including the spleen, liver, thymus, and bone marrow. The lymphatic system includes organs and tissues throughout the body that produce, store, and carry white blood cells. NHL is not a single disease, but a group of closely related malignancies or cancers of the white blood cells.

Symptoms of NHL

Most people with NHL do not have any symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include:

  • Painless swollen glands or lumps in the neck, groin, or armpits
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Itching skin
  • Pain or feeling of fullness in the abdomen

Diagnosis of NHL

If NHL is suspected, the doctor will likely order certain tests, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Biopsy

A biopsy is the most important test for diagnosing NHL. During a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample of cancerous cells and studies them under a microscope. This helps the doctor identify which type of NHL is present, and whether it is indolent or aggressive.

Treatment of NHL

Treatment for NHL is determined by the stage of the cancer, the type of NHL, the patient's age and overall health, and other factors. Treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Stem cell transplantation
  • Surgery

The goal of treatment is to destroy the cancer cells and improve the patient's quality of life. Treatment options may be used alone or in combination, depending on the diagnosis and location of the tumors.

Outlook and Prevention

The prognosis for NHL depends on the stage and type of NHL, the patient's age and overall health, and the response to treatment. Some types of NHL can be cured with treatment, while others may be difficult to control with treatment.

The exact cause of NHL is not known. There is no sure way to prevent it, but there are some things that may help lower your risk:

  • Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants.
  • Avoid tobacco and second-hand smoke.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get recommended vaccinations to help protect yourself from illnesses that can weaken the immune system.