Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system.
It is not the same as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is treated differently. If you are looking for information about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, see our non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma page.
The lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It consists of the spleen and bone marrow (amongst other things) and is connected by lots of vessels that are joined together by the lymph glands (also known as lymph nodes).
The lymphatic system helps the body fight against disease and infection. That is why, when we have a virus, you may notice that the lymph nodes under the armpits, neck or groin become swollen.
While Hodgkin’s lymphoma can affect anyone at any age, it is more common in young people aged between 15 and 29. Hodgkin’s lymphoma accounts for approximately 17% of all cancer diagnoses for young women aged between 15 and 24, and 14% of diagnoses for young men in the same age group.
The most common first symptom of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a swelling in one of the lymph glands that lasts for some time. The most common place for the swelling to occur is in the lymph gland in your child's neck, but it can also start in their groin or under their arm pit. These swellings are usually painless, though for some people they can ache.
Some people also experience night sweats (to the extent that their sheets and night clothes are drenched), fever, weight loss or itching.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is usually diagnosed after specialists perform a biopsy. This involves removing part of the swollen gland and examining the cells under a microscope.
If the biopsy shows that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is present in the gland, your child will also need scans, x-rays and/or blood tests to help the doctors determine the position and spread of the disease.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is treated using chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy. This will depend upon the stage of the disease and how your child responds to the treatment. It’s best to talk to your specialist or one of the team of people caring for your child about their specific treatment plan.
Chemotherapy is the main type of treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A combination of drugs will be delivered into your child's bloodstream with the aim of killing the cancer cells. This treatment usually takes place over a number of months. High-dose chemotherapy with accompanying stem cell support, may also be used if your child's cancer does not respond to chemotherapy, or if it returns after their initial treatment.
Radiotherapy involves using high-energy rays to target the cancer cells. It is mainly used if the disease remains active after chemotherapy, or if your child has a relapse.
What are the treatment side-effects?
If your child is undergoing chemotherapy, they may experience side-effects such as tiredness, sickness, diarrhoea and temporary hair loss. They will also be at greater risk of infections.
Radiotherapy can also make your child feel tired and sick.They might experience skin irritation similar to sun burn and hair loss in the area that is being treated.
For more information about how side-effects can be managed, talk to your specialist or nurses, or see the side-effects section of our website.
After your treatment is complete your child will still need to be seen regularly at an outpatient clinic. At this clinic, your specialist will be looking for any signs that the cancer has returned (this is known as a relapse). They will also check that their major organs, such as their heart and lungs, are still functioning correctly and haven’t been affected by their cancer treatment.
Long-term follow up
Once the risk of relapse has reduced, the focus of on-going follow up changes to looking out for potential long term side effects of treatment. The risk of long term side effects depends on the type of cancer your child had and the treatment they received. A personalised surveillance plan is usually created that outlines the specific long term follow up and on-going investigations that your child requires. Many people are at low risk of future health problems but some will have significant on-going health needs.
Being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma may affect your child's fertility and lead to an increased risk of developing a second tumour later in life. However, as treatment protocols improve, these risks are decreasing. Talk to your specialist about the potential long-term side-effects of your child's treatment.
Updated January 2015, next planned review 2017.