About Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is a series of tubes or vessels that run throughout your body. It is very like your blood system and works closely with it. It carries a watery clear fluid called lymph. The lymph has a large number of white blood cells called lymphocytes. There are two types of lymphocytes, B-cells and T-cells, and both help to fight infection.

White blood cells

Diagram of white blood cells

Along the lymph vessels are bean-shaped glands called lymph nodes. The nodes can be felt in some areas of your body. For example, in your armpits, neck and groin. Other nodes cannot be felt so easily and are found in your chest, tummy area and pelvis. Some body organs also form part of your lymphatic system. For example, your tonsils, adenoids, thymus, spleen and bone marrow.

The lymphatic system works to keep your body healthy by:

  • Fighting infection.
  • Draining any leaked fluid in your tissues back into your bloodstream.
  • Filtering the lymph as it passes through your lymph nodes.
  • Filtering your blood as it passes through your spleen.

What is non–Hodgkin lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Lymphoma cells usually grow in lymph glands (nodes) in your body. This causes the glands to enlarge or swell. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can start anywhere in your body but the most common place is your neck, armpit or chest. The lymphoma cells can sometimes spread to other lymph glands. They can also enter your bloodstream and spread to other organs. It is also possible for non-Hodgkin lymphoma to start in an organ, such as your liver, stomach or bowel.

Types of lymphoma

There are two types of lymphoma called Hodgkin (HL) and 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 in type. In fact, there are more than 50 different types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin can be either low grade or high grade in nature.

Low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Low grade means that the cells grow very slowly and may need little or no treatment for months or possibly years. The most common types include:

  • Follicular lymphoma
  • Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma (also known as Waldenströ m´s macroglobulinaemia)
  • Small lymphocytic lymphoma
  • Nodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
  • Extranodal marginal zone B-cell (MALT)

To find out more about low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma download this booklet: Understanding low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

High-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma

High grade lymphomas grow more quickly. They usually cause symptoms and will need immediate treatment. The most common ones include:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
  • Burkitt lymphoma
  • Peripheral T-cell lymphoma
  • Mantle cell lymphoma
  • Anaplastic large cell
  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma

To find out more about high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma download this booklet: Understanding high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

How common is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects both men and women. In 2017 It was estimated that more than 800 people are diagnosed with it in Ireland each year.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Wednesday, November 14, 2018