Parts of the immune system
The lymphatic system is part of the body's immune system, which protects against infection and disease. The lymphatic system includes the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes and lymph channels, as well as the tonsils and adenoids.
Lymph node clusters
Lymph nodes are bean-sized collections of cells called lymphocytes. Hundreds of these nodes cluster throughout the lymphatic system, for example, near the knee, groin, neck and armpits. The nodes are connected by a network of lymphatic vessels.
Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's germ-fighting immune system. In Hodgkin's lymphoma, white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control, causing swollen lymph nodes and growths throughout the body.
Hodgkin's lymphoma, which used to be called Hodgkin's disease, is one of two general categories of lymphoma. The other is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma have helped give people with this disease the chance for a full recovery. The prognosis continues to improve for people with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
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Swollen lymph nodes
One of the most common places to find swollen lymph nodes is in the neck. The inset shows three swollen lymph nodes below the lower jaw.
Signs and symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma may include:
- Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats
- Losing weight without trying
- Severe itching
- Pain in your lymph nodes after drinking alcohol
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your health care provider if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.
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Doctors aren't sure what causes Hodgkin's lymphoma. They know that it begins when infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes develop changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.
The DNA changes tell the cells to multiply rapidly and to continue living when other cells would naturally die. The lymphoma cells attract many healthy immune system cells to protect them and help them grow. The extra cells crowd into the lymph nodes and cause swelling and other Hodgkin's lymphoma signs and symptoms.
There are multiple types of Hodgkin's lymphoma. Your type is based on the characteristics of the cells involved in your disease and their behavior. The type of lymphoma you have helps determines your treatment options.
Classical Hodgkin's lymphoma
Classical Hodgkin's lymphoma is the more common type of this disease. People diagnosed with this type have large lymphoma cells called Reed-Sternberg cells in their lymph nodes.
Subtypes of classical Hodgkin's lymphoma include:
- Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Mixed cellularity Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin's lymphoma
Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin's lymphoma
This much rarer type of Hodgkin's lymphoma involves lymphoma cells that are sometimes called popcorn cells because of their appearance. Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin's lymphoma is usually diagnosed at an early stage and may require less intensive treatments compared to the classical type of the disease.
Factors that can increase the risk of Hodgkin's lymphoma include:
- Your age. Hodgkin's lymphoma is most often diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s and those over age 55.
- A family history of lymphoma. Having a blood relative with Hodgkin's lymphoma increases your risk of developing Hodgkin's lymphoma.
- Being male. People who are assigned male at birth are slightly more likely to develop Hodgkin's lymphoma than are those who are assigned female.
- Past Epstein-Barr infection. People who have had illnesses caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, such as infectious mononucleosis, are more likely to develop Hodgkin's lymphoma than are people who haven't had Epstein-Barr infections.
- HIV infection. People who are infected with HIV have an increased risk of Hodgkin's lymphoma.