Jefferson University Hospitals

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

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Your body’s lymphatic system plays a vital role in your immune system, helping fight infections and other diseases. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or NHL, is named after the doctor who first described the disease. This cancer starts in your lymphocytes (white blood cells), versus cancer that starts elsewhere in the body and metastasizes (spreads) to your lymphatic system.

Although NHL is the sixth most common cancer in the U.S., the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society note that the five-year survival rate has risen from 31 percent in 1960 to more than 70 percent today. Early diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment help to improve survival rates.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Symptoms

Doctors sometimes initially misdiagnose NHL as another medical problem because the symptoms mimic those of viral infections. But symptoms that don’t go away including painless swelling of the lymph nodes (glands), legs or ankles, could be signs of NHL. Other symptoms include cramping and bloating of the abdomen, night sweats and fever, weight loss and loss of appetite or chills. Some other telltale signs are unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and itching.

Risk Factors for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

  • Men age 60 or older
  • Individuals who are Caucasian
  • Exposure to some chemicals, chemotherapy drugs and nuclear radiation
  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Weakened immune system
  • Viral and bacterial infections such as HIV or hepatitis
  • Some viral and bacterial infections, such as Epstein Barr Virus

Types of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

  • Non-Hodgkin’s – Cancer affecting a subset of white blood cells called B-cells and T-cells.  B cells produce antibodies that fight infections. T cells kill foreign substances directly
  • NHL Subtypes – Burkitt’s lymphoma, diffuse large cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, MALT lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma and adult T-cell lymphoma/leukemia

How Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is Diagnosed

The oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and other cancer specialists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson work as a team to confirm your diagnosis. Our thorough examinations begin with a discussion about your symptoms and a review of your medical history. We’ll then conduct a thorough physical exam, paying special attention to your lymph nodes and other places of your body that might be involved including the spleen and liver. Blood and urine tests may help rule out an infection or other disease. Diagnostic imaging tests help find the places in your body that might have cancer and how far it may have spread. Other definitive tests include lymph node tissue biopsies and bone marrow aspiration.

Treatment Options

Your Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson medical team will recommend a personalized treatment plan based on the type of NHL you have, its stage of growth, plus your age and overall health. A slow-growing NHL may not require treatment for years. A more aggressive type of NHL typically requires immediate and intensive treatment to help shrink or kill the cancerous cells.

Treatments may include a combination of therapies, including:

  • Biologic or Antibody Therapy – Using biological drugs such as interferon or manmade proteins to boost the immune system
  • Chemotherapy – Using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy – Also called IMRT, this therapy uses external energy to kill cancer cells
  • Bone Marrow Transplant – Using healthy marrow to form a new immune system. Jefferson’s specialists pioneered a novel procedure called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) that reduces transplant complications, such as when the donor marrow attacks its new host. In clinical trials, this approach is bringing individuals lacking well-matched donors quicker, broader access to transplants with better results
  • Homeopathic Medicine – Using naturally occurring substances such as plants and minerals to stimulate the body’s own healing abilities
  • Herbal Medicine – Using medicines made from plant extracts to treat pain and illness

Why Choose Jefferson for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson is your resource for nationally-recognized oncology expertise. We’re ranked as one of the nation’s best hospitals for cancer treatment by U.S.News & World Report, and we are one of only 70 National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the U.S. Our physicians and scientists have helped pioneer new approaches to cancer treatment by translating scientific discoveries into improved patient care.

Our world-renowned researchers are pioneering new approaches to cancer treatments and designing effective cancer prevention strategies. We not only offer our patients best-in-class non-Hodgkin’s medical services, our compassionate care includes multiple patient and family support groups to meet your emotional and psychological needs.

Next-Day Appointments Available

Call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) to speak with a JEFF NOW® representative who will schedule an appointment for you.