Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cancer in the lymphatic system. Sixty percent of lymphomas are non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and functions to fight disease and infections.

The lymphatic system includes:

  • Lymph fluid – fluid containing lymphocyte cells.
  • Lymph vessels – thin tubes that carry lymph fluid throughout the body.
  • Lymphocytes – specific white blood cells that fight infections and disease.
  • Lymph nodes – bean-shaped organs, found in the underarm, groin, neck, chest and abdomen, that act as filters for the lymph fluid as it circulates through the body.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma causes the cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce, eventually causing tumors to grow. Non-Hodgkin’s disease cells also can spread to other organs and tissues in the body.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the third most common childhood cancer. It occurs most often in children between the ages of 7 and 11, but can occur at any age from infancy to adulthood.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects males almost three times more often than females and is more common among Caucasian children than among African American children and children of other races.

What are the different types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

There are three subtypes of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:

  • Lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – accounts for about 35 percent of the cases, involves the T-cells and usually presents with a mass in the chest, swollen lymph node(s), with or without bone marrow and central nervous system involvement.
  • Burkitt’s or non-Burkitt’s lymphoma – a non-Hodgkin’s disease in which the cells are undifferentiated and diffuse, also referred to as small noncleaved cells. Burkitt’s and non-Burkitt’s lymphoma account for about 40 percent to 50 percent of the cases are usually characterized by a large abdominal tumor and may have bone marrow and central nervous system involvement.
  • Large cell or diffuse histiocytic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – involves the B-cells and T-cells and accounts for about 15 percent to 20 percent of the cases. Children with this type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually have lymphatic system involvement, as well as a nonlymph structure (i.e., lung, jaw, brain, skin and bone) involvement.