Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that happens in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps to protect you from infections and disease – it’s a network of fine tubes that runs through the body.

Types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

There are more than 30 types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The different types are normally grouped into two main sorts:

  • B-cell lymphomas, which affect a type of cell called a B lymphocyte. They are the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • T-cell lymphoma, which affects another type of cell called a T lymphocyte.

If you or your child has been diagnosed with a different type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, talk to your specialist for more information about that particular type of cancer and its treatment.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a lump or swelling that can occur anywhere in the body. This isn’t usually painful but may be achy. You may notice you lose weight without meaning to, have a high temperature or sweat heavily during the night. You may also feel breathless, or have a cough that doesn’t go away.

How is it diagnosed?

If your GP thinks you need to have further tests, you’ll normally be sent to the hospital where a specialist takes a sample from the affected area (biopsy). This usually happens under local anaesthetic, where the area is numbed and you won’t feel any pain.

You may have further tests if your specialist thinks that your cancer, in the form of a tumour, or lump, may have spread.

The specialist will be able to work out the stage of cancer from these tests. The stage is the size of the tumour and whether it has spread to other parts of your body.

How is it treated?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is normally treated with chemotherapy, or by chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. Your exact treatment will depend on the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma you have, and how far the tumour has spread, so it’s best to talk to your specialist for further information.

Chemotherapy, which uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, is usually given as an injection or through a drip every 3–4 weeks for four or more sessions of treatment. Sometimes steroid medication is used in combination with chemotherapy. A course of radiotherapy, where radiation is used to kill cancer cells, usually lasts about 5 to 8 weeks.

You may be treated with monoclonal antibody therapy, which is a type of medication that targets cancer cells and signals the immune system to target and kill the cells.

What happens after treatment?

You will still need to attend an outpatient clinic regularly so your specialist can check your progress and make sure your cancer hasn’t come back.

Many people don’t have long-term health problems following treatment, but some do. Talk to your specialist about the potential long-term side effects of your treatment.

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