Non Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

What is Non Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

Non Hodgkin Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of your body’s defense (immune) system, which protects the body from infections, germs, and diseases. NHL affects a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes.

There are different types of NHL. The kind of NHL you have depends on the type of cells it affects and how quickly it grows and spreads.

Non Hodgkin Lymphoma may occur in all age groups, although older patients tend to be affected most commonly. Most patients present with advanced disease.

On pathologic specimens, one observes a predominance of malignant lymphocytes that are generally homogeneous and uniformly cellular.

On imaging, one may see enlarged lymph nodes anywhere within the thorax, but extranodal disease is common, generally appearing as homogeneous soft tissue masses that may involve nearly any organ in the body.

Cystic, necrotic, or calcific changes are uncommon but may occasionally be seen. Avid uptake of FDG on PET imaging is often present

What are the causes?

The cause of NHL is not known.

What increases the risk of Non Hodgkin Lymphoma?

Risks factors for Non Hodgkin Lymphoma include:

  • Having a weak immune system, especially after an organ transplant.
  • Specific bacterial and viral infections including:
    • HIV.
    • Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Age. NHL is more common in people over the age of 60.

What are the symptoms of Non Hodgkin Lymphoma?

Symptoms of Non Hodgkin Lymphoma may include:

  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Sweating without cause.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Fatigue.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Coughing, breathing trouble, and chest pain.
  • Unexplained weakness.
  • Swelling of your face, legs, or stomach (abdomen).
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Headache.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in personality.
  • Seizures.

How is Non Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosed?

The diagnosis of NHL may include:

  • A physical exam and medical history.
  • Blood tests.
  • Chest X-ray.
  • Testing of body tissue (biopsy) of your lymph gland or bone marrow.
  • Different types of scans, including:
    • CT scans.
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
    • Gallium scan.

How is Non Hodgkin Lymphoma treated?

NHL can be treated in different ways. This depends on your symptoms, the stage of NHL when you were first diagnosed, and the speed with which it is spreading. Treatment may include:

  • Radiation therapy. This uses radiation to destroy cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy. This uses medicine to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Biological therapy. This uses the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells.
  • Bone marrow transplantation.
  • Blood or platelet transfusions. This may be needed if your blood counts are low.

Your cancer will be staged to determine its severity and extent. Your health care provider does staging to find out whether the cancer has spread, and if so, to what parts of your body. You may need to have more tests to determine the stage of your cancer.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take medicines only as directed by your health care provider.
  • Plan rest periods when fatigued.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as directed by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have new symptoms of NHL.
  • You have signs of infection. These might include:
    • Fever.
    • Chills.
    • Sore throat.
    • Headache.
    • Nausea.
    • Vomiting.
    • Diarrhea.
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