Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune system. Abnormal changes in a lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell, cause it to become a lymphoma cell. Cancers involving lymphoid tissue are called lymphomas.

Because lymph tissue exists in many parts of the body (including the neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, and groin), Hodgkin lymphoma can start in almost any part of the body and spread to almost any organ or tissue, including the liver, bone marrow, and spleen. These abnormal cells form the masses, or tumors, that gather in lymph nodes or other parts of the lymphatic system.

About 11.5% of people with lymphoma have Hodgkin lymphoma, which is one of the most curable forms of cancer. Also known as Hodgkin disease, it is most likely to be diagnosed in people in their 20s or 30s and is less common in middle age. However, it again becomes more common after age 60.

Risk factors and symptoms

Possible risk factors are:

  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • The Human T-cell Lymphocytotropic Virus (HTLV) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Familial clustering, when several members of a family have the disease

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Itchy skin

Since these symptoms are common to a wide variety of illnesses, you’ll need a thorough medical exam for diagnosis.

Treatment options

Hodgkin lymphoma is cured in about 75% of all patients, with the cure rate in younger patients about 90%. At UCSD Medical Center, our team of specialists is highly experienced in the treatment and care of Hodgkin lymphoma patients. Depending on your individual case, treatment can include the following:

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

The most common treatment is chemotherapy, cancer-fighting drugs administered by mouth or injected in a vein. Generally a combination of several drugs is administered in cycles several weeks apart.  Depending on the stage of your cancer, your doctor may also decide to target tumor masses with radiation therapy, which uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.

Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT)

The two primary types of BMT are autologous (using your own previously harvested cells) and allogeneic (using donor cells).  Both are preceded by high-dose chemotherapy and/or radiation, which destroy not only the cancerous cells in your body, but healthy cells as well.  You will be in the hospital during this time, to ensure that you are not exposed to possible infection.  Then, during the transplant procedure, you’ll receive healthy cells which make their way to your bone marrow and start producing new blood cells.

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapies, also known as immunotherapies, work by directing the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. These therapies may be based on substances naturally produced by the body, or created in a lab. One type of biologic therapy, known as monoclonal antibody therapy, uses antibodies created in the lab from a type of immune cell, which are then infused into the body to specifically target and destroy lymphoma cells.


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