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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer that starts in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are cells of the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system works with other parts of your immune system to help your body fight infection and disease. The lymphatic system is made up of a network of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and the lymphatic organs. Lymph vessels carry lymph fluid, which contains lymphocytes and other white blood cells, antibodies and nutrients. Lymph nodes sit along the lymph vessels and filter lymph fluid. The lymphatic organs include the spleen, thymus, adenoids, tonsils and bone marrow.
Lymphocytes develop in the bone marrow from basic cells called stem cells. Stem cells develop into different types of cells that have different jobs. Lymphocytes are types of white blood cells that help fight infection. There are 2 types of lymphocytes:
Lymphocytes sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These abnormal cells can form tumours called lymphomas. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can start from either B cells or T cells.
There are over 30 types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They are grouped based on the type of lymphocyte they started from. Most types of NHL start in B cells and are called B-cell lymphoma. NHL can also start in T cells, which is called T-cell lymphoma. The different types of NHL look different under a microscope. They also develop and grow differently. The grade of NHL is based on how different, or abnormal, the cancer cells look compared to normal lymphocytes. The grade gives doctors an idea of how slowly or quickly the lymphoma will likely grow and spread. NHL is usually divided into 2 groups:
Because lymphocytes are found throughout the lymphatic system, NHL can start almost anywhere in the body. It usually starts in a group of lymph nodes in one part of the body, most often in the chest or neck or under the arms. NHL usually spreads in a predictable, orderly way from one group of lymph nodes to the next. Eventually, it can spread to almost any tissue or organ in the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.
Other cancers of the lymphatic system are called Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). The abnormal B cells of Hodgkin lymphoma look and behave differently from non-Hodgkin lymphoma cells. Hodgkin lymphomas and non-Hodgkin lymphomas are treated differently.
A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.
Some symptoms of NHL are generalized and affect the whole body. These are called systemic symptoms or B symptoms and include:
B symptoms are usually associated with more extensive disease. Their presence can play a role in treatment decisions
Signs and Symptoms According to the Location of Disease
Treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is given by cancer specialists (oncologists) or hematologists. Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.
Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with lymphoma. Treatment decisions for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) are based on: