Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in cells in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of tissue, vessels, and a fluid called lymph. Lymphocytes are the main cells in the lymphoid tissue and are an important part of your immune system. They help the body fight infection. Organs that have lymphoid tissue include your:

There are 2 main types of lymphocytes: B lymphocytes, or B cells, and T lymphocytes, or T cells. Treatment depends on which type of lymphocyte has been affected by the cancer.

Cancers that affect lymphocytes are classified as either Hodgkin's disease or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Doctors can usually tell them apart by studying the cancer cells, which may include looking at them under a microscope.

Treatment of lymphomas varies by type and stage. Roman numerals I through IV (1 to 4) are used to describe the stage. If the lymphoma has spread to organs outside the lymph system, an "E" is added to the stage. The "E" stands for "extranodal" disease, meaning it has moved beyond the lymph nodes and is affecting other areas of the body. For example, a stage II lymphoma that grows into the lungs can be staged as lymphoma IIE. If the spleen is affected, an "S" is added to the stage.

Staging for lymphomas will also include a letter A or B, depending on whether certain symptoms are present. Patients with fever, night sweats, or significant weight loss are said to have "B" symptoms. If these specific symptoms are not present, the letter "A" is noted (for example, stage IIA).

The Lymphatic System

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

An estimated 79,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2012.

Doctors diagnose non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by performing a biopsy on the affected lymph node or tumor. There are many types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The treatment your doctor chooses will depend on which type of lymphoma you have. Treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may include:

Hodgkin's disease

Hodgkin's disease is a less common cancer of the lymph system. In 2012, there are expected to be about 9,000 new cases of this cancer in the United States.

Hodgkin's disease spreads from lymph node to lymph node, step by step. In later stages of the disease, the cancer may enter the bloodstream and migrate to other areas of the body.

Most people who get Hodgkin's disease will survive for many years after diagnosis. That's why the goal of Hodgkin's disease is usually to cure the cancer.

Treatment is determined by the stage and other specific characteristics of the cancer. Treatment for this disease may include:

Chemotherapy can cause side effects

Chemotherapy stops or slows the growth of cancer cells. Often, cancer cells are fast growing. But chemo also damages healthy cells that divide quickly. These healthy cells can include cells in the bone marrow that make blood, cells in the lining of the gut and mouth, and hair cells. Damage to healthy cells is what causes many chemo side effects. Here's how it works:

  • When chemo damages healthy blood cells, the result can be:
  • Chemo may damage healthy cells in the stomach. The chemo drugs then irritate these areas, which could result in nausea and vomiting. Chemotherapy drugs may also trigger signals in the brain that tell your body to vomit.
  • When chemo affects healthy cells surrounding hair follicles, the result can be hair loss. Hair loss is also known as alopecia.

Chemo can cause many other side effects, but the good news is that there are ways to manage them.

Learn more about side effects and how to manage them.

A Closer Look: Roger*
Roger
65-year-old Roger goes to his doctor with fatigue. After tests, he is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
His doctor refers him to an oncologist. The oncologist prescribes a common chemo treatment for this cancer, which is given for 6 cycles. The schedule is one chemo session every 21 days.
Roger's doctor tells him that the chemo regimen is known to cause certain side effects. These include:
Roger doesn't let his wife or kids come with him to treatments or doctor visits.
He does well during his first cycle, but shortly after develops a fever and suffers from violent chills. His wife drives him to the hospital.
Test shows that he has a fever and a very low white blood cell count (a condition called febrile neutropenia).
Roger is treated with intravenous fluids and an antibiotic. He is admitted into the oncology unit at the hospital.

*This is a fictional case study based on chemo patient experiences. Your experience is unique. Your doctor and care team will create a plan that will best treat your type of cancer and manage your chemo side effects.

A Closer Look: Rachel*
Rachel
Rachel is 27 years old. At college, she had several bouts of mono. Years later, she is diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.
Rachel's doctor prescribes her a chemo regimen.
Rachel's doctor tells her that her chemo regimen is known to cause certain side effects. These include:
Rachel joins a cancer support group. She learns more about her disease and treatment and brings many questions to her doctor and care team.
Her doctor and care team help her prepare to manage chemo side effects.

*This is a fictional case study based on chemo patient experiences. Your experience is unique. Your doctor and care team will create a plan that will best treat your type of cancer and manage your chemo side effects.

Learn more about managing chemo side effects and make sure to speak with your doctor and care team to plan for managing side effects!

Check out these questions to help you prepare.

Click here for a discussion guide about chemotherapy and infection to use with your health care team.

Lymphoma Resources

  • Getting Started:
    Questions Worksheet

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  • The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
    chance for infection

    Infection can be a serious result of chemo. Find out the factors that affect your chance of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.

    Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.

  • Survivor Story

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  • Want to learn about specific side effects?