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What is Lymphoma?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lymphoma refers to malignant tumors of the lymph system. The lymph system, which is part of the immune system, is a series of nodes or glands located in numerous places throughout the body, connected by a network of vessels which carry lymph fluid, or white blood cells. Cancer that affects this system is considered quite serious because it can spread throughout the body via the lymph vessels. Recent advances in medicine have made it more treatable than ever before, however, and there has been much success in defeating it.

There are several different kinds of lymphoma, divided into two basic categories: Hodgkin's lymphoma, named after Dr. T. Hodgkin, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Within each category, there are subtypes or classifications. While Hodgkin's has five subtypes, there are about 35 recognized types of cancer that fall into the non-Hodgkin's category, and differentiating between them can be difficult.

Regardless of category, each classification or subtype behaves differently and, in most cases, requires its own specific treatment regimen. Therefore, careful diagnosis is necessary. If an oncologist is part of a research board working through a university, a patient may have the advantage of his case being presented before a review board to gain a consensus on the pathology or type of cancer, staging, and treatment. If not, it's a good idea for patients to seek a second opinion from another experienced oncologist who will review the test results and make his or her own diagnosis.

Some types of lymphoma are tougher to fight than others, but generally speaking, this disease responds to treatment in most cases. The main concern is a tendency for recurrence with certain types. Chemotherapy and radiation can also produce long-term effects years after the cancer has been sent into remission, but this situation is expected to improve with time as medical advancements continue to be made.

Among promising new treatments for this type of cancer are biological drugs, such as rituxamab. This man-made antibody attaches itself to a substance called CD20, found on the surface of many types of lymphoma cells. In attaching itself, it kills the cancer cell without affecting nearby healthy cells. This is a significant improvement over chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which kill healthy and cancerous cells alike. Other types of man-made antibodies are also in use, and research is ongoing.

There is no recognized cause for lymphoma at this time, though the medical community suspects some types might be caused by a virus. People with this form of cancer, or who know someone who has been diagnosed with it, should remember that there are likely many reasons to be hopeful and positive that a full recovery can be made.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon1005805 — On Nov 24, 2021

My wife is a 73-year-old, two and half year survivor of CNS Lymphoma Brain Cancer. She has clean MRIs. She was treated at Mayo/Jax for two and half years and her only residual effects are short term memory problems, which involve a rainbow of issues that only a true caretaker can recognize. She doesn’t drive and we do lots of everyday things together. But, she’s 73!

Medical science has come a long way. Have faith.

By anon93991 — On Jul 06, 2010

Thank you for answering my questions in an easy to understand way. Now tomorrow i will be prepared when the doctors talk to us about mom. Thank you once again.

By anon56101 — On Dec 11, 2009

my boyfriend has swollen lymph nodes and we don't know what it is

By anon43350 — On Aug 27, 2009

My husband is 29 years old, he is having masses on his hand and it is painless. i am worried about it! what is it? is it any type of cancer or anything? what are the treatments for it?

By anon450 — On Apr 25, 2007

Thank you for a simple and direct guide. There is enough information to inform and not enough to scare. A friend diagnosed recently is waiting to hear what type the lymphoma. We all know it's serious, but your tone gives me hope. Having suffered different cancers myself I appreciate the softly softly approach, it helps to deal with matters day by day and not taking the long view.

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