Lymphomas and lymphatic system
This section is for teenagers and young adults and is about a type of cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Learning more about the lymphatic system can help you understand it better.
The lymphatic system is one of the body’s natural defences against infection. Lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands) are an important part of the lymphatic system. They are connected by a network of tiny tubes called lymph vessels. There are groups of lymph nodes throughout the body including in the tummy area (abdomen), chest (mediastinum), neck, armpit and groin (where the top of your leg joins your body).
A fluid called lymph travels through the lymph vessels. Lymph carries white blood cells called lymphocytes around the body to fight infections and disease.
Lymphocytes start in the bone marrow as cells that haven’t properly developed yet (immature), called stem cells. They then go through different stages of development until they are fully-developed (mature), and ready to fight infections and disease.
Lymphomas, like all cancers, are a disease of the body’s cells. Normally cells in our body divide and grow in a controlled way. But, sometimes cells keep dividing and grow out of control. This is how cancer develops.
In lymphomas white blood cells called lymphocytes become abnormal and grow out of control. These lymphocytes can build up in one part of the body and form a lump (tumour).
There are two main types of lymphoma:
Although these cancers are both lymphomas, they are different and need different treatments. Your doctors will do tests to find out which type you have.
The most common place for Hodgkin lymphoma to start is in the lymph nodes in the neck. Other common places are the lymph nodes:
in the chest
under the arms
in the tummy (abdomen)
in the groin (where the top of your leg joins your body).
Hodgkin lymphoma sometimes affects lymph nodes in just one area of the body, but lymphocytes travel round the body so the lymphoma can spread from where it started.
It can spread through:
the lymphatic system, from lymph nodes in one part of the body to lymph nodes elsewhere.
the bloodstream to other parts of the body such as the spleen or bone marrow.
When the lymphoma cells reach a new area they may start growing and form a new lump (tumour).
Causes of Hodgkin lymphoma
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We don't know what causes Hodgkin lymphoma, but research is going on to try to find out. Remember that nothing you’ve done has caused the cancer.
Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in young people over the age of 10. About 1 in 6 of all cancers affecting young people between 15-24 is a Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hodgkin lymphoma isn’t infectious and can’t be passed on to other people or family members.