Lymphoma refers to a family of cancers of the lymphatic system, which is responsible for fighting disease and infection and includes organs, tissues and blood vessels.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also called NHL, begins when a lymphocyte or white blood cell (usually a B cell) of the lymphatic system becomes abnormal. The abnormal cell divides, making copies of itself, again and again, making more and more abnormal cells.
The abnormal cells don’t die as they should, and they also don’t do their normal function – to protect the body from infections or other diseases. Instead, the buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Because lymphatic tissue is in many parts of the body, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can form almost anywhere, although it is usually found first in a lymph node.
There are many types of NHL, each identified by a particular abnormal or cancer cell. When a lymphoma is found, our pathologist figures out its type, which is important to properly figure treatment. The most common types of NHL are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.
Rate of growth
NHL is assigned a group based on how quickly it is likely to grow:
- Indolent (also called low-grade) lymphomas grow slowly. They tend to cause few symptoms.
- Aggressive (also called intermediate-grade and high-grade) lymphomas grow and spread more quickly. They tend to cause severe symptoms. Over time, many indolent lymphomas become aggressive lymphomas.
It’s a good idea to get a second opinion about the type of lymphoma you have. The treatment plan varies by the type of lymphoma. A pathologist at a major referral center can review your biopsy. Read here for more information about second opinions.
Visit the National Cancer Institute where this information and more can be found about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or contact us so we can discuss more your individual situation.