Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a name for a group of cancers that start in certain types of white blood cell.
According to the American Cancer Society, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is among the most common forms of cancer in the United States, making up around 4% of all cancer cases in the country.
It can develop at any age and is common in children and young adults. The risk, however, increases as a person ages, and more than half of those with the disease are 65 or older when they receive the diagnosis.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in males — about 1 in 42 develop it, while the disease occurs in about 1 in 54 females.
This article explains what non-Hodgkin lymphoma is and outlines the types, symptoms, and treatment options. It also looks at the latest statistics regarding prognosis and outlook.
Understanding non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin are the two main types of lymphoma.
Lymphomas are cancers that begin in white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells are a part of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.
As well as contributing to the fight against infections and diseases, the lymphatic system helps fluids, including blood, move around the body.
Lymphoma can develop in any area of the body that contains lymph tissue, including the:
- lymph nodes, which exist throughout the body — in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, for example
- spleen, which creates lymphocytes and other immune cells
- bone marrow, where new blood cells form
- thymus, a gland in the upper chest that plays a role in developing lymphocytes
- adenoids and tonsils, which fight against infection in the back of the throat
- digestive tract, as some areas contain lymph tissues
Without treatment, non-Hodgkin lymphoma can spread throughout the body. The blood can transport cancerous white blood cells to distant areas.
Types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma
There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They fall into two main groups, based on whether the affected white blood cells are B cells or T cells.
Doctors also classify lymphomas based on how fast they grow. Any type can be slow-growing (indolent) or fast-growing (aggressive).
B cell types
According to the Cancer Support Community, around 85% of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the U.S. start in B cells. Below are the two most common types.
Diffuse large B cell lymphoma
Around 1 in 3 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are this type. It usually starts as a lump in a lymph node.
Sometimes, diffuse large B cell lymphoma starts in the intestine, bone, brain, or spinal cord. It grows quickly but usually responds well to treatment.
Almost 20% of lymphomas in the U.S. are this type, which starts in the lymph nodes and bone marrow.
Follicular lymphoma usually grows slowly and responds to treatment, but it is difficult to cure and may come back.
Less common types of B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:
- mucosa-associated lymphatic tissue lymphoma
- small cell lymphocytic lymphoma, or chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- intravascular large B cell lymphoma
- mantle cell lymphoma
- Burkitt’s lymphoma
- hairy cell leukemia
- primary central nervous system lymphoma
- mediastinal (thymic) large B cell lymphoma
- lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, or Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia
- nodal marginal zone B cell lymphoma
- splenic marginal zone lymphoma
- extranodal marginal zone B cell lymphoma
- primary effusion lymphoma
T cell types
The Cancer Support Community report that T cell types account for fewer than 15% of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the U.S. Subtypes include:
- Peripheral T cell lymphoma: Also known as generic T cell lymphoma, this is the most common type of T cell lymphoma, and there is a range of further subtypes.
- Cutaneous T cell lymphoma: This type includes T cell lymphomas that primarily affect the skin, but they can also affect the blood, lymph nodes, and internal organs.