Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is a type of cancer that affects the lymph system. A lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's immune system. The lymphatic system contains tiny vessels similar to blood vessels that transport lymph, a colorless fluid made of cells that fight infection, throughout the body. Lymphomas occur when cells in the lymph system are injured, become abnormal, and begin to multiply continuously. This proliferation makes it difficult for the body to produce healthy cells to protect against infection.
Because lymphoid tissue is found in many parts of the body (e.g., groin, spleen, thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, chest, neck, and abdomen), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) can start anywhere and spread to any other part of the body, including the liver, bone marrow, spleen, and nose.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 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. The prognosis for patients with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is based on whether the tumors are indolent or aggressive.
Lymphomas account for approximately 5% of all cases of cancer in the U.S. About 50,000 new cases of NHL occur annually in the U.S. The disease is becoming more common, possibly because of its link to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). People who have autoimmune diseases like HIV or immune deficiencies are at risk for developing NHL because their immune systems are compromised, making it hard for them to fight off cancer cells. In addition, 3 out of 10,000 people receiving an organ transplant or who have a suppressed immune system will develop lymphoma. NHL is more common in men, Caucasians, and people who are over 50 years of age.
Treatment for patients with NHL depends on the number and location of tumors. Treatment usually involves radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both. Treatment may also involve surgery, immunotherapy, and bone marrow transplantation.
Treatment for NHL is determined by the stage of the condition. Patients with highly aggressive or non-responsive disease are treated with more intensive therapy. In a few cases of NHL, high-dose chemotherapy, bone marrow transplantation, biological therapies, or surgery may be needed.
While there are some known risk factors for NHL, there are no known direct causes.
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