What is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)?
Did you know around 13,900 people are diagnosed with NHL each year in the UK, which makes it the 6th most common type of cancer in adults.
Lymphoma is a blood cancer that forms tumours in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network all around your body an important part of your immune system aka your defence system, which is made up of lymphatic vessels and some of our organs. Lymphoma occurs when white blood cells (infection fighting cells), called lymphocytes, grow out of control. The affected lymphocytes build up, forming lumps, which are commonly found in your neck, armpit and groin.
Types of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)
To make things clearer, doctors put non-Hodgkin lymphomas into two groups depending on how fast they grow and spread. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can also be divided into high-grade (fast growing) or low-grade (slow growing) types. This may sound worrying but high-grade lymphoma are more likely to go into long-term remission than low-grade lymphomas, which tend to relapse.
Low-grade NHL: this usually develops slowly and is said to be a more ‘chronic’ disease. This means that people may not need treatment for many years and will be on ‘watch and wait’. Some types of low-grade Non Hodgkins lymphoma are; follicular lymphoma.
High-grade NHL: this refers to lymphoma that usually grows faster and is more aggressive than others. People with high-grade lymphomas are often more likely to be treated successfully and stay in remission than people with low-grade lymphomas. Most young people have high-grade lymphoma.
Lymphoma can cause many different symptoms, depending on which type of lymphoma it is and where it develops in the body – head to our signs & symptoms page to get clued up!
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Staging
The stages of lymphoma tell you about the number and places in the body that are affected by lymphoma. The stages are numbered 1 – 4 which can be simplified into early or advanced stage and knowing the stage helps your doctor to decide what treatment you need. Doctors look at whether the lymphoma is on one side, or both sides of the diaphragm. And whether it is inside or outside of the lymphatic system. They will measure the size of the lymphoma. They do this by carrying out various tests, such as a CT or PET scan.
Stage 1 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
Only one group of lymph nodes affected anywhere in the body. Stage 1 means that there is lymphoma in only one group of lymph nodes (glands). These can be anywhere in the body, either above or below the diaphragm (the breathing sheet of muscle separating your chest from your tummy). Doctors use the diaphragm as a guide because it is about halfway down the body.
Stage 1E Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
Stage 1E means that the lymphoma started in a single body organ outside the lymphatic system and is only in that organ. This is called extranodal lymphoma. Extranodal sites include the lungs, liver, bone marrow, kidneys, brain and spinal cord. Your doctor may use the letter E after the stage number if you have lymphoma outside of the lymphatic system.
Stage 2 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
Two or more groups of lymph nodes affected, all on the same side of the diaphragm (either above or below). Stage 2 means there is lymphoma in two or more groups of lymph nodes. These can be anywhere in the body, but they must all be on the same side of the diaphragm.
Stage 2E Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
Stage 2E means the lymphoma started in one body organ (not in the lymphatic system) and is also in one or more groups of lymph nodes – these must all be on the same side of the diaphragm.
Stage 3 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
This means that you have lymphoma on both sides of the diaphragm.
Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of lymphoma. Stage 4 means that lymphoma started in the lymph nodes and has spread to at least one body organ outside the lymphatic system for example, the lungs, liver, kidney bone marrow or bones.
Your doctor will add the letter B to your stage (for example, stage 1B) if you have any of the following symptoms:
- unintentional weight loss
- drenching night sweats
- high temperatures that come and go, often at night
If you don’t have any of these symptoms your doctor will add the letter A to your stage (for example, stage 2A). People with B symptoms may need more treatment than those without them.