Cancer that starts in the white blood cells of the lymphatic system

Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system and is important for helping drain fluids and waste from the body. The lymphatic system also produces white blood cells that help protect against infection. There are two primary types of lymphoma: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin, named after a 19th-century British doctor who identified people who had cancer involving the lymph nodes.

Hodgkin lymphoma, formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease, involves damage to the DNA of white blood cells (called lymphocytes), which causes the cells to multiply and spread to other tissues throughout the body. The condition is distinct from other types of lymphoma because of the presence of a particular type of cell, called Reed-Sternberg cells.

Though not all cases of Hodgkin lymphoma have a clear cause, there is some connection between having had certain viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus (which also causes mononucleosis) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Symptoms and diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma

The most obvious sign of the disease is often a swollen lymph node, visible in the neck and tender to the touch. You may also experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Itching all over the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Night sweats

If you are having symptoms that concern you, be sure to visit your doctor. The doctor will perform a complete physical exam and review of your medical history. He or she may also recommend testing, such as a blood test, bone marrow biopsy, CT scan, complete blood count (CBC) and PET scan.

Treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but depends on whether and how much the cancer has spread.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.