What is lymphoblastic lymphoma

Lymphoblastic lymphoma (LL) is a rare type of fast-growing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It develops when the body makes abnormal lymphocytes. It can develop from both B-cell and T-cell lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that fight infection.

The abnormal lymphocytes (lymphoma cells) usually build up in lymph nodes but can affect other parts of the body.

LL is very similar to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and is treated in the same way. It is most common in children and teenagers.

We have more information about ALL.

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Symptoms of lymphoblastic lymphoma

Painless swelling in neck, armpit or groin

This is often the first sign of LL. It is caused by lymphoma cells building up in the lymph nodes, which makes them bigger. It can cause symptoms such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • cough
  • chest pain.

B symptoms

Some people also have:

  • drenching night sweats
  • high temperatures (fevers) with no obvious cause
  • unexplained weight loss

Doctors call this group of symptoms B symptoms.

Other symptoms

LL sometimes also affects other areas of the body, which causes other symptoms. These areas can include the:

  • bone marrow
  • brain
  • liver
  • spleen
  • skin
  • testicles
  • ovaries.

Causes of lymphoblastic lymphoma

The causes of LL are mostly unknown. Like other cancers, it is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people. It is very rare in adults and usually occurs in people under the age of 35. It is more common in males than females.

We have more information about causes and risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Diagnosis of lymphoblastic lymphoma

The most common test for this lymphoma is to remove part or all of an enlarged lymph node (a biopsy). This may be done under local or general anaesthetic. The biopsy is then sent to a laboratory to be checked for lymphoma cells. You may also have biopsies taken from other areas of the body.

You can read more about further tests you may have in our information about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may help to talk to your family, friends or specialist nurse.

Staging and grading of lymphoblastic lymphoma

The stage describes which areas of the body are affected by a lymphoma. The grade describes how the lymphoma cells look and grow. Low-grade lymphomas are usually slow growing and high-grade lymphomas grow more quickly. LL is a high-grade lymphoma.

Doctors often use information about the stage and grade to help plan lymphoma treatment. However, with LL these factors do not affect your treatment plan.

Treatment for lymphoblastic lymphoma

A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your doctor or cancer specialist or nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.

Treatments for LL include:

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. This involves several phases of treatment using different combinations of chemotherapy drugs. LL is treated with the same type of chemotherapy as ALL. We have more detailed information about chemotherapy for ALL.

  • Steroids

    Steroids are drugs that are often given with chemotherapy to treat lymphomas. They help make chemotherapy more effective.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to nearby healthy cells. It may be used to treat lymphoma in the chest or brain. It is sometimes given to reduce the risk of lymphoma spreading to the brain (called prophylactic cranial radiotherapy).

  • Stem cell and bone marrow transplants

    Stem cell and bone marrow transplants is sometimes used after chemotherapy. It is also used to treat lymphoma that has come back after treatment. It is an intensive treatment, so it is not suitable for everyone. You may have a transplant using your own stem cells (autologous stem cell transplant) or cells from a donor (allogeneic stem cell transplant).

It is common for LL to be treated as part of a clinical trial.

After lymphoblastic lymphoma treatment

You have regular follow-up appointments after treatment. These appointments are a good opportunity for you to talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns you have. Your doctor will want to know how you are feeling generally, and to check you are recovering from any side effects of treatment.

Late effects

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.

Well-being and recovery

Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.

Making small changes such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and wellbeing and help your body recover.

Getting support

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 is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

The organisations below also offer information and support:

  • Blood Cancer UK

    Blood Cancer UK is a blood cancer research charity that provides information and support on any type of blood cancer.

  • Lymphoma Action

    Lymphoma Action gives emotional support, advice and information on all aspects of Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It has a national network of people with lymphoma, and local groups.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    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 Editor, 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.

Reviewed: 31 January 2018
Reviewed: 31/01/2018
Next review: 31 January 2020
Next review: 31/01/2020