What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Like other types of cancer, lymphoma is a disease of the body’s cells. The body is made up of cells that need to be replaced as they age or are damaged. This happens through cell division, which is when a cell divides and makes a new copy of itself.

Normally, cell division is carefully controlled so the right amount of cells are made to meet the body’s needs. However, if this process gets out of control for some reason, too many cells are made and a cancer can develop. In lymphoma, a lump or tumour forms in one or more groups of lymph nodes.

Because lymphocytes travel around the body, lymphoma can spread from where it first started. It can spread through the lymphatic system from lymph nodes in one part of the body to lymph nodes elsewhere. Lymphoma cells can also travel in the bloodstream to organs such as the bone marrow, liver or lungs. When the lymphoma cells reach a new area, they may carry on dividing and form a new tumour.

There are two main types of lymphoma:

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. Around 11,500 people are diagnosed each year. About 1,700 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (about 1 in 5 (20%) of all lymphomas diagnosed).

The difference between Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma

It’s only possible to tell the difference between Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma when the cells are looked at under a microscope.

In most cases of Hodgkin lymphoma, a particular cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell is found when cells from the lymph node are examined during diagnosis. This cell isn’t usually found in other types of lymphoma, so these types are called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This difference is important, because the treatment for Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be very different. It’s thought that Reed-Sternberg cells are a type of white blood cell - a B-cell that has become cancerous. B-cells normally make antibodies to fight infection.

Back to Lymphoma

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.