Hodgkin's Disease

Information about the type of lymphoma known as Hodgkin’s disease.

Hodgkin’s disease is one of a group of cancers called lymphomas. Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. Hodgkin’s disease, an uncommon lymphoma, accounts for less than 1 percent of all cases of cancer in this country. Other cancers of the lymphatic system—called non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas—are covered in other articles in FamilyCare America’s online library.

The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system. It helps the body fight disease and infection. The lymphatic system includes a network of thin lymphatic vessels that branch, like blood vessels, into tissues throughout the body. Lymphatic vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. Along this network of vessels are small organs called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarms, groin, neck, chest, and abdomen. Other parts of the lymphatic system are the spleen, thymus, tonsils, and bone marrow. Lymphatic tissue is also found in other parts of the body, including the stomach, intestines, and skin.

In Hodgkin’s disease, cells in the lymphatic system become abnormal. They divide too rapidly and grow without any order or control. Because lymphatic tissue is present in many parts of the body, Hodgkin’s disease can start almost anywhere. Hodgkin’s disease may occur in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or, sometimes, in other parts of the lymphatic system such as the bone marrow and spleen. This type of cancer tends to spread in a fairly orderly way from one group of lymph nodes to the next group. For example, Hodgkin’s disease that arises in the lymph nodes in the neck spreads first to the nodes above the collarbones, and then to the lymph nodes under the arms and within the chest. Eventually, it can spread to almost any other part of the body.

Preparing for Treatment

Many people with cancer want to learn all they can about the disease and their treatment choices so they can take an active part in decisions about their medical care. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, shock and stress are natural reactions. These feelings may make it difficult to think of everything to ask the doctor. Often, it helps to make a list of questions. To help remember what the doctor says, patients may take notes or ask whether they may use a tape recorder. Some people also want to have a family member or friend with them when they talk to the doctor—to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.

People do not need to ask all of their questions or remember all of the answers at one time. Questions may arise throughout the treatment process. Patients and caregivers may ask doctors, nurses, or other members of the health care team to explain things further or to provide more information.

These are some questions a patient may want to ask the doctor before treatment begins:

  • What is the diagnosis?
  • What is the stage of the disease?
  • What is the grade of the disease?
  • What are the treatment choices? Which do you recommend? Why?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will be successful?
  • What new treatments are being studied in clinical trials? Would a clinical trial be appropriate?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • Will treatment affect my normal activities? If so, for how long?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost?

Follow-up Care

After their treatment is completed, people who’ve had Hodgkin’s disease should have regular follow-up examinations for the rest of their lives. Follow-up care is an important part of the overall treatment process, and people who have had cancer should not hesitate to discuss it with their health care provider.

Patients treated for Hodgkin's disease have an increased chance of developing leukemia; non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and cancers of the colon, lung, bone, thyroid, and breast. Regular follow-up care ensures that patients are carefully monitored, any changes in health are discussed, and new or recurrent cancer can be detected and treated as soon as possible. Between follow-up appointments, people who’ve had Hodgkin’s disease should report any health problems as soon as they appear.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from information in the What You Need to Know About™ Cancer series, published by the National Cancer Institute.

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