What is lymphoma?

The lymphatic system is part of the body's immune system. It is a network of lymph glands or nodes throughout the body linked by lymph vessels. The lymph fluid carries white blood cells (lymphocytes) which help to fight infection. Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes which behave abnormally and tend to collect in lymph nodes which then enlarge to form tumours. Lymphomas differ from other types of cancer and we asked an expert in lymphomas, Professor David Linch, to explain how.

There are two main types of lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma often affects young adults, most of whom can be cured, especially if diagnosed at an early stage. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma mainly affects adults; the risk increases with age. There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, each with its own treatment and prognosis.

Many different treatments for lymphoma exist. These include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, antibody therapy, targeted therapy and stem cell transplants. Some people newly diagnosed with low grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma do not need treatment immediately but are closely monitored until their disease progresses to a stage where treatment is needed (see 'Watch and wait').

If treatment is successful people may be told they are in remission. The length of remission depends on individual circumstances but the longer people are in remission the less likely it is that their disease will relapse. Relapsed lymphomas can often be treated and people we spoke to were given chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplants, or surgery (see 'When lymphoma comes back').

Considerable research over recent years has led to lymphomas becoming better understood than in the past and to the current levels of successful treatment of Hodgkin and high grade non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Research into new treatments continues with the aim of improving the outcomes for all people with lymphoma.

 Last reviewed February 2016
 Last updated February 2016

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