7 Surprising Facts About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on August 17, 2021
  • Woman with bald head
    Understanding the Most Common Type of Blood Cancer
    Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a blood cancer. It affects white blood cells (lymphocytes). They play a critical role in the immune system for fighting infections. If you have this cancer, your lymphocytes start to grow and multiply too fast. They become cancer cells and can spread and form tumors in many tissues, causing a variety of symptoms, such as enlarged lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. But there's more to know about non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Here are some surprising facts.
  • Doctor examining neck glands
    1. There are more than 60 types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
    This is not a single disease. The type depends on the type of lymphocyte that becomes cancer, the way the cancer looks under a microscope, and how fast it grows. B-cell lymphocytes are the most likely ones to become non-Hodgkin lymphoma. T-cell lymphocytes can also become cancer. Your cancer treatment doctors will suggest the best treatment for you once they know which type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma you have.
  • Worried senior woman comforting a sick elderly man
    2. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common white blood cell cancer.
    Lymphoma is the medical term for white blood cell cancer. It's the most common type of blood cancer. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common type of lymphoma. The number of people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been going up since the 1970s. In fact, about 1 of every 50 Americans develops this cancer. The risk increases with age, but it also occurs in children and young adults. Most people with this cancer are 65 or older.
  • Researcher using microscope
    3. There are many potential DNA changes giving rise to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
    Medical experts do not know the exact cause of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, they are starting to learn about DNA changes inside lymphocytes that lead to cancer. The DNA changes may cause cancers to behave differently, even though they look the same under a microscope. They've also learned that exposure to certain things and some infections lead to genetic changes. The experts are starting to use genetic testing to recognize these changes. That is helping doctors diagnose this cancer earlier than in the past.
  • Man mowing lawn
    4. Exposure to pesticides could raise your risk.
    A cancer risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting cancer. One risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma may be exposure to chemicals that kill weeds and insects. Contact with these chemicals may cause DNA changes. The contact could come from breathing them in or having them pass through your skin. Another risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is being exposed to radiation. Having a weak immune system or having certain types of viral infections can raise your risk too. A family history of the disease is also a risk factor.
  • Chemo patient
    5. There's no one way to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
    There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so there are many treatments. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery are options. But another option is watchful waiting. Some non-Hodgkin lymphomas grow so slowly that treatment might not be necessary. Another option is to strengthen your immune system to help you fight cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy kill normal cells along with cancer cells. Because of that, researchers are developing targeted therapies that kill only cancer cells.
  • Syringe
    6. Vaccination might be an option in the future.
    When you think about a vaccination, most people think of a shot to prevent an infection like the flu. But, vaccines might work for cancer as well—just in a different way. The idea behind cancer vaccines is not to prevent cancer but to help you fight cancer. When you first get non-Hodgkin lymphoma, your immune system may be too slow to fight it. Researchers are working on vaccines that trigger your immune system into action. Some of these vaccines are available now in clinical trials. They are testing the vaccines to see if they'll help you fight an early cancer or help your immune system prevent a cancer from coming back after treatment.
  • Medicines in hand
    7. Some non-Hodgkin lymphomas may improve with antibiotics.
    Researchers are trying to find out if antibiotic drugs might work against certain non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Antibiotics are medicines that fight bacterial infections. One type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma may be linked to a bacterial infection in your stomach. The bacteria are Helicobacter pylori. They cause ulcer disease and sometimes lymphoma. Other bacteria linked to lymphoma may cause a type of eye infection. Treating these bacteria with a simple course of antibiotics might make some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma improve or even go away.
7 Surprising Facts About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Causes & Risk Factors

About The Author

  1. Getting the Facts, Lymphoma Research Foundation. http://www.lymphoma.org/atf/cf/%7BAAF3B4E5-2C43-404C-AFE5-FD903C87B254%7D/LRF_FACTSHEET_NHL_2013.PDF
  2. What Are the Key Statistics About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/about/key-statistics.html
  3. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment, American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/treating.html
  4. What’s New in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Research and Treatment? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/about/new-research.html
  5. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Risk factors. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
  6. Cancer Stat Facts, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.. National Cancer Institute. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/nhl.html
  7. What's New in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Research and Treatment. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/about/new-research.html
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Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 17
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