Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Basic information about the group of cancers known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Lymphoma—which accounts for about 5 percent of all cases of cancer reported in the United States—is a general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. Hodgkin’s disease is one type of lymphoma, while all other lymphomas are grouped together under the name “non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma”.

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 tubes 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 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cells in the lymphatic system become abnormal. They divide and grow without any order or control, or old cells do not die as cells normally do. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can develop almost anywhere in the body—in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or in another organ. It can then spread to other areas, including the liver, bone marrow, and spleen.

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 Treatment

People who have had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma should have regular follow-up examinations after their treatment is over. Follow-up care is an important part of the overall treatment plan, and your loved one should not hesitate to discuss it with his or her health care provider. 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 have had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 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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