Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

The majority of all lymphomas – about 88.5% – are non-Hodgkin lymphomas. There are about 30 different varieties of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which starts in the lymphoid tissue (also called lymph or lymphatic tissue).  The major sites of lymphoid tissue are lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus gland, adenoids and tonsils, the digestive tract, and bone marrow.

Two of the most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, which makes up about one of every three cases and can affect any age group, but occurs mostly in older people.  About half of these patients are cured with treatment if the cancer is found in only one part of the body.
  • Follicular lymphoma, which makes up about one of every four cases and tends to grow in a circular pattern in the lymph nodes.  A slow-growing cancer, it is found most often in older people.


    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Itching
    • Fever (can come and go in periods of several days or weeks)
    • Night sweats
    • Anemia
    • Weight loss
    • If the cancer involves lymph nodes close to the body surface, you or your doctor will most likely notice the unusual swelling.
  • If an area inside the abdomen is involved, the stomach can become painful or swollen; you may experience pain, nausea or reduced appetite.
  • If the cancer starts in the thymus or lymph nodes of the chest, pressure on the windpipe can cause coughing or shortness of breath. If the tumor presses on a large vein, areas of the body such as the head and arms may swell.
  • Lymphomas of the brain may cause headache, confusion, personality changes and sometimes seizures.
    If cancer occurs on the skin, this can be seen as red-to-purple lumps and can be very itchy.

Risk factors

  • Age (with most cases found in people in their 60s or older)
  • Exposure to certain herbicides or chemicals, such as benzene
  • Treatment with chemotherapy drugs
  • Radiation exposure
  • A weakened immune system
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Certain infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • A type of bacteria that causes stomach ulcers
  • Obesity
  • Persons with organ transplants 

Treatment options

UCSD’s team of specialists are experienced in treating all types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Depending on your particular form of the disease and its stage, your treatment can include:

Radiation therapy

This uses high energy rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. Radiation is sometimes used as the primary treatment for early lymphomas, but more often is used in combination with chemotherapy.


This treatment consists of cancer-fighting medications taken orally or by injection.  Often, multiple drugs are combined, with treatment given in cycles three or four weeks apart.

Biologic therapy, also known as immunotherapy, works 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.

Monoclonal antibodies

These are administered as an infusion over a period of weeks, use laboratory-designed antibodies to attack lymphoma cells.
Interferon, a protein made by white blood cells to fight infections, can cause some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma to shrink.

Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT)

The two primary types of BMT are autologous (in which your own previously harvested blood or marrow  cells are used) and allogeneic (in which donor cells are used).  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.  During the transplant procedure, you’ll receive healthy donor cells which make their way to your bone marrow and start producing new blood cells.


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