Health A to Z

Lymphoma

What is lymphoma and who's at risk? Learn more with this informative overview.

Lymphoma is any cancer that develops within the lymphatic system, a network of glands and vessels that make up the body’s immune system and defend against diseases. Because there is lymph tissue throughout the body, the cancer may spread to other organs or the bone. The two main categories of lymphoma are Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin (NHL).

Lymphoma causes When cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally, lymphoma occurs and may form a tumour. Genetics may be a factor; environmental triggers, such as pollution, may also cause lymphoma.

Lymphoma symptoms Lymphoma is sometimes diagnosed when a sufferer visits a doctor complaining of a cold that will not clear up. Other symptoms include painless swelling in the neck, groin or arm pits; night sweats; weight loss; lack of energy; and itching.

Lymphoma diagnosis/tests To make a diagnosis of Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and take your medical history, and she will order blood tests to examine your cells; abnormal test results may indicate that you have this type of cancer. It’s also possible that you’ll be sent for a lymph node biopsy, either a surgical or core needle biopsy, to take a tissue sample. Your doctor may recommend X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans or PET scans to look at your organs, bones and tissues in greater detail. If the tests reveal that you have lymphoma, you may be sent for further tests to see if it has spread.

Lymphoma treatment Lymphoma is curable and can respond well to treatment. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells and prevent the disease from spreading are also treatment options.

Lymphoma prevention The only known way to lower your risk for lymphoma is by preventing infection with HIV, which weakens the immune system. People with HIV face a higher risk of developing certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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Outside resources
Lymphoma Foundation Canada
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society