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Hodgkin's Lymphoma Library

Learn about Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Adult Hodgkin lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph system.

Adult Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that develops in the lymph system. The lymph system is part of the immune system. It helps protect the body from infection and disease.

The lymph system is made up of the following:

  • Lymph: Colorless, watery fluid that travels through the lymph vessels and carries T and B lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell.
  • Lymph vessels: A network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream.
  • Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells that help fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes are found along a network of lymph vessels throughout the body. Groups of lymph nodes are found in the neck, underarm, mediastinum, abdomen, pelvis, and groin.
  • Spleen: An organ that makes lymphocytes, stores red blood cells and lymphocytes, filters the blood, and destroys old blood cells. The spleen is on the left side of the abdomen near the stomach.
  • Thymus: An organ in which T lymphocytes mature and multiply. The thymus is in the chest behind the breastbone.
  • Tonsils: Two small masses of lymph tissue at the back of the throat. There is one tonsil on each side of the throat.
  • Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue in the center of certain bones, such as the hip bone and breastbone. White blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are made in the bone marrow.

Lymph tissue is also found in other parts of the body such as the stomach, thyroid gland, brain, and skin. Cancer can spread to the liver and lungs.

Lymphomas are divided into two general types: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This summary is about the treatment of adult Hodgkin lymphoma. (See the PDQ summary on Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)

Hodgkin lymphoma can occur in both adults and children. Treatment for adults is different than treatment for children. Hodgkin lymphoma may also occur in patients who have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); these patients require special treatment.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information:

Hodgkin lymphoma in pregnant women is the same as the disease in nonpregnant women of childbearing age. However, treatment is different for pregnant women. This summary includes information about treating Hodgkin lymphoma during pregnancy.

There are two main types of Hodgkin lymphoma: classical and nodular lymphocyte-predominant.

Most Hodgkin lymphomas are the classical type. The classical type is broken down into the following four subtypes:

  • Nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Lymphocyte depletion Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Lymphocyte-rich classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

Age, gender, and Epstein-Barr infection can affect the risk of adult Hodgkin lymphoma.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for adult Hodgkin lymphoma include the following:

  • Being in young or late adulthood.
  • Being male.
  • Being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, or sister) with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Pregnancy is not a risk factor for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Signs of adult Hodgkin lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by adult Hodgkin lymphoma or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if any of the following do not go away:

  • Painless, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin.
  • Fever for no known reason.
  • Drenching night sweats.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Feeling very tired.

Tests that examine the lymph nodes are used to detect (find) and diagnose adult Hodgkin lymphoma.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease.
  • Sedimentation rate: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the rate at which the red blood cells settle to the bottom of the test tube. The sedimentation rate is a measure of how much inflammation is in the body. A higher than normal sedimentation rate may be a sign of lymphoma or another condition. Also called erythrocyte sedimentation rate, sed rate, or ESR.
  • Lymph node biopsy: The removal of all or part of a lymph node. One of the following types of biopsies may be done:
    • Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire lymph node.
    • Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lymph node.
    • Core biopsy: The removal of part of a lymph node using a wide needle.

    A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells, especially Reed-Sternberg cells. Reed-Sternberg cells are common in classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

    The following test may be done on tissue that was removed:

    • Immunophenotyping: A laboratory test used to identify cells, based on the types of antigens or markers on the surface of the cell. This test is used to diagnose the specific type of lymphoma by comparing the cancer cells to normal cells of the immune system.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The patient's signs and symptoms.
  • The stage of the cancer.
  • The type of Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Blood test results.
  • The patient's age, gender, and general health.
  • Whether the cancer is recurrent or progressive.

For Hodgkin lymphoma during pregnancy, treatment options also depend on:

  • The wishes of the patient.
  • The age of the fetus.

Adult Hodgkin lymphoma can usually be cured if found and treated early.

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