About Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)

What is the lymphatic system?

Your lymphatic system is made up of tubes or vessels that run throughout your body. It is quite like your blood system and it works with it. It carries a watery, thin liquid called lymph. The lymph fluid has a large number of white blood cells, called lymphocytes. There are two types of lymphocytes; they are called B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes. These help to fight infection.

There are bean-shaped vessels along your lymph vessels. These are called lymph nodes. You can feel the nodes in some areas of your body. You might be able to find them in your armpits, your neck and in your groin. You have other nodes that you won´t be able to feel as easily. These are in your chest, your abdomen or tummy area and in your pelvis. Some body organs also form part of the lymphatic system. These include:

  • Tonsils
  • Adenoids
  • Thymus
  • Spleen
  • Bone marrow

The lymphatic system does some very important jobs. These include:

  • Fighting infection
  • Draining fluid that has leaked from the tissues back into the blood stream
  • The lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid as it passes through
  • The spleen filters the blood as it passes through

What is Hodgkin lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Generally, lymphoma cells grow in lymph glands (nodes). This causes the glands to get bigger or swell. Hodgkin lymphoma can start in any part of your body, but the most common place for it to start is the neck, armpit or chest. The lymphoma cells can sometimes spread to other lymph glands. They can also get into your bloodstream and spread to other organs. Hodgkin lymphoma can also start in an organ, for example in your liver, stomach or bowel.

Types of lymphoma

There are two types of lymphoma. One is called Hodgkin and the other is non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The difference between the two types depends on the appearance of the lymphoma cells under the microscope. Most lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The information here is only about Hodgkin lymphoma. Please see the section on non-Hodgkin lymphoma for information about that cancer.

How common is Hodgkin lymphoma?

In 2017 it was estimated that 146 people in Ireland are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma each year. The treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma is very successful, even if it has spread to other areas in the body.