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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

About non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a group of cancers that form in cells in the lymphatic system, a critical part of the immune system. The lymphatic system is a network of organs connected by vessels and about 650 lymph nodes that transport immune cells called lymphocytes throughout the body to help fight infections and viruses. The lymphatic system also filters waste and toxins from the bloodstream. The thymus, tonsils, spleen and bone marrow form part of the lymphatic system.

The main types of lymphocytes are T-cells and B-cells. Killer T-cells attack cells that have been infected or damaged. Helper T-cells stimulate B-cells to make antibodies that attack infections and viruses.

B-cells are more likely than T-cells to mutate and cause a liquid cancer such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma or leukemia. B-cell lymphomas are the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, accounting for nearly 90 percent of all cases. Because there are many types and subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an exact diagnosis is important.

The main difference between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the similarly named Hodgkin lymphoma is the presence or absence of Reed-Sternberg cells, which are mutated B-cells that are five times larger than normal B cells. Reed-Sternberg cells are usually detected during a biopsy, and indicate the presence of Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is among the most common cancer type in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 74,200 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma will be diagnosed in 2019. By comparison, Hodgkin lymphoma is rare, making up only about 0.5 percent of all new cancers diagnosed.