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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body. The lymphatic system is part of your immune system. Clear fluid called lymph flows through the lymphatic vessels and contains infection-fighting white blood cells known as lymphocytes. In non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the affected lymphocytes start to multiply in an abnormal way and begin to collect in certain parts of the lymphatic system, such as the lymph nodes (glands). The affected lymphocytes lose their infection-fighting properties, making the body more vulnerable to infection.
About 80% of all lymphomas diagnosed are non-Hodgkin lymphoma*. In the UK, more than 12,000 cases are diagnosed each year*. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur at any age, but your chances of developing the condition increase as with age, with most cases diagnosed in people over 65*. Slightly more men than women are affected.
The exact cause of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is unknown, but there are several risk factors associated with the disease. These include:
The most common symptom of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, usually in the neck, armpit or groin. The swelling is caused by an excess of affected lymphocytes (white blood cells) collecting in a lymph node, which is a pea-sized lump of tissue found throughout the body containing white blood cells that help to fight against infection.
Some people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma also have other more general symptoms. These can include:
Other symptoms will depend on where in the body the enlarged lymph glands are. For example, if the stomach is affected, you may have abdominal pain or indigestion.
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you are referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will perform a test called a biopsy, which is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma. This is a minor surgical procedure where a sample of affected lymph node tissue is removed
If the patient tests positive for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a range of further tests will be carried out to determine the type and spread of the cancer. These include:
Many of the diagnostic tests used to confirm non-Hodgkin lymphoma can also be used to identify the type of the disease. Knowing this helps the doctors to tailor the treatment plan to the individual needs of the patient. There are more than 30 types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma.
At CCL, patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team from our Haemato-Oncology department, headed by Professor Ray Powles, CBE. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient.
Initially, most patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are treated with the ‘Wait-and-See’ approach, which is used when the disease is low-grade and the patient doesn’t show any troubling symptoms. At this point, there is no advantage to starting treatment and a period of ‘watchful waiting’ is often recommended as some people take many years to develop troublesome symptoms in these circumstances.
Once symptoms are present, there are a variety of treatment options available, including:
In a few cases where the initial cancer was very small and was removed during a biopsy, no further treatment may be needed.
At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment.
We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible. Our support services include counselling, group sessions and much more. You can find the full range of our support services here. We’ll be with you every step of the way.