Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that occurs when lymphocytes – white blood cells that help protect the body from infection and disease – begin behaving abnormally. Abnormal lymphocytes may divide faster than normal cells or they may live longer than they are supposed to.
Lymphoma may develop in many parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood or other organs.
There are two main types of lymphomas:
- Hodgkin lymphoma (HL, formerly referred to as Hodgkin’s lymphoma): There are six types of HL, an uncommon form of lymphoma that involves the Reed-Sternberg cells.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL, formerly referred to as non-Hodgkins lymphoma): There are more than 61 types of NHL, some of which are more common than others. Any lymphoma that does not involve Reed-Sternberg cells is classified as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Certain symptoms are not specific to lymphoma and are, in fact, similar to those of many other illnesses. People often first go to the doctor because they think they have a cold, the flu or some other respiratory infection that does not go away.
Common symptoms include:
- Swelling of lymph nodes, which may or may not be painless
- Unexplained weight loss
- Sweating (often at night)
- Lack of energy
Most people who have these non-specific symptoms will not have lymphoma. However, it is important that anyone with persistent symptoms be examined by a doctor to make sure lymphoma is not present.