September 15th is World Lymphoma Awareness Day. Many people won’t know what lymphoma is. But you might recognise the word if you have heard of the term lymph nodes - sometimes called lymph glands. In this blog, intern Flo clears up some questions you may have about lymphoma.

So, what is lymphoma?
Lymphoma
is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are part of this, but there are also lymphatic vessels, blood cells called lymphocytes, and other organs and tissue that make up this system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and helps fight disease. Here is an illustration of the lymphatic system:

Lymphoma happens when blood cells called lymphocytes become abnormal. These lymphoma cells keep dividing. Their growth gets out of control and the immune system can’t destroy them. When enough lymphoma cells have collected together, they form a lump. The lump usually starts in the lymph nodes, most commonly in the neck, armpit or groin. Lymphoma can also spread from where it first started into other areas of the lymphatic system or to other organs such as the liver or the lungs.

I’m confused by the names Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin that I’ve heard talked about with lymphoma
Hodgkin lymphoma
and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) are the two main types of lymphoma. Within each of these types, there are many sub-types. The difference between Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma is to do with the type of cells in the cancerous lump.

It must be rare if I haven’t heard a lot about it
Hodgkin lymphoma is pretty rare – only around 1,700 people are diagnosed with it in the UK every year.

However, about 4 in 5 (80%) people who have lymphoma are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and around 13,500 people are diagnosed with it every year.

Doesn’t a lump in the neck just mean you have an infection or the flu?
Lymph nodes in the neck can swell due to an infection such as a cold or throat infection, but if the swelling continues after your infection has gone, you should visit your doctor. This is because the most common symptom of both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a swelling in a lymph node, which is most common in the neck, armpit or groin.

There are other symptoms that you may have with or without a lump in the lymph nodes. These include:

  • a cough or breathlessness
  • heavy sweats, particularly at night
  • itchiness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • indigestion or tummy (abdominal) pain.

Some people don’t have any of these symptoms and the lymphoma is found during tests for other conditions. We have more information about symptoms of non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma

How is lymphoma treated?
Treatment depends on the specific type and stage of lymphoma you are diagnosed with. You may be offered chemotherapy, radiotherapy, steroid therapy, targeted therapy, or a stem cell transplant. There is also the option to ‘watch and wait’ for some people with low-grade lymphoma. This means delaying treatment until the cancer advances or symptoms worsen.

If you have been diagnosed with lymphoma, remember you call our support line on 0808 808 00 00 for free, or check out our online community groups on Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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