Hodgkin's disease (HD) is a type of cancer that affects the lymph system. A lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's immune system. Lymphomas occur when cells in the lymph system are injured, become abnormal, and begin to multiply continuously; this makes it difficult for the body to produce healthy cells that protect a person from infection. Hodgkin's disease is found most commonly in the chest and neck. In most cases, enlarged lymph nodes are found in the space between the two lobes of the lung.
Cells collected from a biopsy can be examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. The most characteristic cells associated with Hodgkin's disease are called Reed-Sternberg cells.
Hodgkin's disease can progress either slowly or aggressively. Lymphomas that grow slowly and produce fewer symptoms than more aggressive tumors are called indolent lymphomas. Aggressive lymphomas--also called intermediate- and high-grade lymphomas—grow and spread at an accelerated rate, and are associated with more severe symptoms.
Hodgkin's disease is a cancer that may spread from one lymph node to another. Hodgkin’s disease spreads from one lymph node to another either slowly or very aggressively, but always in an orderly way. Hodgkin's disease usually spreads downward from the initial site. In addition to affecting the lymph nodes, the cancer cells may also spread to the bone marrow or the spleen.
Hodgkin's disease is most prevalent in people in their late teens or in their sixties.
In the US, the disease primarily affects people who are 15 to 35 or 50 to 70 years of age. Hodgkin's disease is newly diagnosed in only about 7,500 people in the US each year, and doesn’t seem to be increasing in incidence. As a result, the disease accounts for less than 1% of all cases of cancer in the US. Treatment for Hodgkin’s disease varies with the stage of the disease; however, it usually responds to anticancer drugs and radiation treatment.
Treatment for patients with Hodgkin's disease depends on the number and location of tumors, but usually involves radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both, and may require surgery or bone marrow transplantation.
Treatment for Hodgkin's disease is determined by the stage of the condition. When treatment is needed, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of both is used. Patients with a highly aggressive or nonresponsive disease are treated with more intensive therapy. Patients with localized Hodgkin's disease are treated with radiation, and those with more disseminated Hodgkin's disease are treated with chemotherapy.
While there are some known risk factors for Hodgkin’s disease, there are no known direct causes.
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