Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps protect us from infection and disease. It is part of the body’s immune system.
There are many types of lymphoma. Different types develop and are treated in different ways. A doctor can only find out your lymphoma type by collecting some lymphoma cells and testing them in a laboratory.
The two main sub-types are:
There are many different types of NHL.
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Doctors do not know the exact causes of lymphoma. But there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it, such as having a weakened immune system.
Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get lymphoma. Many people with lymphoma do not have any risk factors for it.
We have more information about:
If you have symptoms, you usually begin by seeing your GP. If they think your symptoms could be caused by cancer, they may arrange for you to have blood tests or scans. Your doctor will refer you to hospital for tests and for specialist advice and treatment.
If you think you may be pregnant, let your doctor know. Some tests and treatments for lymphoma can be harmful to a baby in the womb. Pregnant women can often still have tests and treatment for lymphoma. But it is important to talk to your doctor so they can plan your care safely. We have more information about cancer and pregnancy.
Biopsy for lymphoma
The most important test for diagnosing lymphoma is a biopsy. A doctor or nurse will take a sample of tissue from the affected area. The most common place to take a biopsy from is an enlarged lymph node. This is called a lymph node biopsy. You may have all or a part of the lymph node removed. The tissue will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
Further tests for lymphoma
You will have more tests before you start treatment for lymphoma. Some tests help to show the stage of the lymphoma. You may have other tests, such as blood tests or x-rays to check your general health and how well your heart, lungs, liver and kidneys are working.
Information from these tests help your doctors plan your treatment safely and effectively.
You may have some of the following tests:
Bone marrow sample
A lumbar puncture is when a hollow needle is inserted between the bones of the lower back. It is done to take a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. In some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the lymphoma cells may get into this fluid.
Waiting for test results can be a difficult time, we have more information that can help.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Your doctor or cancer specialist nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.
Your lymphoma treatment options will depend on a number of things, including:
- the type of lymphoma you have
- the stage of your lymphoma
- your general health
- which parts of your body are affected.
You can find out more about:
You may have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.
You have regular follow-up appointments after treatment. Appointments are a good time for you to talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns you have.
Sometimes a side effect may continue or develop months or years after treatment. This is called a late effect.
We have more information about long-term and late effects of treatment for lymphoma.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with illness and the different emotions they experience. You may find it helpful to talk things over with family and friends or your doctor or nurse.
Macmillan can offer emotional, practical and financial help and support. If you would like to talk, you can:
The organisations below also offer information and support:
Blood Cancer UK
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editors, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist; and Professor Rajnish Gupta, Macmillan Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.