Lymphoma Types, Symptoms, and Treatments
What Is Lymphoma?
Lymphomas are cancers that start in the white blood cells, which are a main part of a fluid called lymph. Lymph helps your body fight infections.
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer. It occurs when abnormal white blood cells multiply and overwhelm your lymphatic system.
Your lymphatic system moves lymph between your blood and your body's tissues and includes your:
- Lymph ducts, nodes, and vessels.
- Bone marrow.
- Adenoids, tonsils, and thymus.
Doctors diagnose about 90,000 people in the U.S. with lymphoma each year.
Lymphoma begins in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Cancer cells in either B cells or T cells — the two main types of lymphocytes —grow in ways that aren't normal. Because there's lymph tissue throughout your body, lymphoma can occur almost anywhere.
Contact UPMC Hillman About Lymphoma CareUPMC Hillman Cancer Center has more than 200 cancer experts and 70 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and western New York. And as one of the largest community cancer networks in the U.S., we're right in your backyard.
Find a UPMC Hillman Cancer Center doctor or location near you.
Types of Lymphoma We Treat
The doctors at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center treat all lymphoma types and subtypes.
The type and subtype depend on the type of cell in which lymphoma began and how quickly cancer cells grow.
The two most common lymphoma types are:
- Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). HL, or Hodgkin's disease, typically forms in lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or near the lungs. HL can begin at any age, but it's most common in young adults (20s) and those older than 55.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). People can get NHL at any age, but risk increases as you age. Half of people newly diagnosed with NHL are 65 or older. NHL is more common than HL and may affect lymph nodes in the stomach or groin.
Lymphoma Risk Factors
Common lymphoma risk factors include:
- Age. People in early adulthood and those over 55 may be at increased risk for Hodgkin lymphoma. If you're over 60, you may be at increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Weakened immune system. Your risk of lymphoma may be greater if you have an autoimmune disease. Your risk may also be higher if you've had an organ transplant or take immunosuppressant drugs.
- History of certain viral infections. You may be at increased risk of lymphoma if you have a history of certain viruses, including Epstein-Barr or HIV.
Symptoms of lymphoma vary from person to person. They may also differ based on the cancer type and stage.
Symptoms may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.
- Coughing, trouble breathing, or chest pain.
- Itchy skin.
- Fever and chills.
- Soaking night sweats.
- Extreme, unexplained weight loss.
Talk to your doctor if you have any ongoing symptoms, especially if you have a family history of blood cancers.
Certain lymphoma symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes, may result from infections or other health issues. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other treatments to see if symptoms resolve.
If symptoms remain or if doctors suspect you may have lymphoma, they may :
- Do a physical exam to look for swelling in your lymph nodes or certain glands.
- Draw blood to run certain blood tests for cancer.
- Take a bone marrow sample to look at under a microscope for abnormal cells. Doctors may also use the results of these tests to design your treatment after a lymphoma diagnosis.
- Remove all or part of a lymph node to learn if cancer has caused the node to swell.
- Do a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to see if cancer cells are in the fluid surrounding your spinal cord.
- Use cancer imaging tests to diagnose lymphoma.
Doctors use diagnostic tests to find out if cancer has spread and to see how fast it's growing (known as staging).
Staging tells doctors about:
- Cancer's location.
- Whether cancer has spread.
- Whether lymphoma affects other parts of your body.
Doctors assign a number to lymphoma stages.
Stage 1 is the least advanced, and stage 4 is the most advanced. Stage 4 means cancer has spread to many areas outside the lymphatic system.
Doctors use cancer staging to design your treatment plan.
Your doctor will talk with you about lymphoma treatments and possible side effects.
If lymphoma doesn't cause symptoms or is slow growing, your doctor may decide to observe it (known as watchful waiting). Treatment may not begin unless symptoms occur or worsen.
Systemic therapy to treat lymphoma
Systemic therapies travel throughout your body to attack cancer cells.
You may take a pill or receive medicine through an IV. Doctors inject IV drugs through a flexible tube (catheter) in your vein during a process called infusion.
Systemic therapies include:
- Chemo, a group of drugs that kill cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy, a drug that uses your immune system to fight cancer cells. CAR T-cell therapy is this type doctors use to treat certain lymphomas.
- Targeted therapy, special drugs that target specific genetic changes in cancer cells.
Radiation therapy to treat lymphomaRadiation treatment uses high doses of energy beams to kill cancer cells in certain parts of the body. Doctors point these beams directly at tumors to shrink them or stop cancer cell growth.
This treatment helps your body's immune system carry radiation to cancer cells to destroy them.
Doctors inject radioactive material and immunotherapy drugs that find cancer cells and accurately deliver radiation.
Stem cell transplant for lymphoma
Stem cell transplant replaces cancer cells in your bone marrow with healthy cells.
Your doctor first treats you with a high dose of chemo to kill cancer cells. After chemo, you receive healthy stem cells to replace diseased cells.
UPMC experts offer clinical trials of new blood cancer and lymphoma treatments.
Talk with your doctor to see if taking part in a trial is an option for you.
Support for Lymphoma Patients and Families
When you or someone you care about has lymphoma, you may benefit from support services for cancer patients and families.
We can help you manage lymphoma's physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial aspects. And we'll support you through treatment and survivorship.