Lymphoma Facts

You can better manage lymphoma when you know the basic facts.  This sheet has information to help - with facts about lymphoma and its tests, plus questions to ask your doctor or nurse and ways to learn more.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.  Your lymphatic system includes tissues and organs such as your spleen and tonsils.  It also includes lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) and small bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes, which help your body fight infection and disease.  Lymph nodes are drawn as small circles. 

On this webpage, you will learn about the lymphatic systemthe stages of lymphomacategories of lymphoma, and tests for lymphoma

The Lymphatic System

This picture shows your lymphatic system, lymph nodes, and organs.

There are two types of lymphoma:

  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL): There are two types of NHL,"B-cell lymphoma" and "T-cell lymphoma." The two types are again divided into: "Indolent lymphoma" grows slowly. "Aggressive lymphoma" grows quickly. When doctors describe lymphoma, they will often use both terms.
  • Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL): This type of lymphoma looks a lot like NHL, but there are some differences. People with HL have abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg (R-S cells). HL is also different because it spreads in a more orderly manner than NHL.

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Stages of Lymphoma

Your doctor or nurse will talk about lymphoma in terms of stages.This is a way of saying where your cancer is and if it has spread. Do not get overly alarmed if your doctor tells you that you have widespread disease, because this is common in NHL and not considered unusual. Here is what the stages mean:

  • Stage I: Cancer cells are in just one lymph node or region (part of your body).This is called "early disease."
  • Stage II: Cancer cells are in two or more lymph nodes or regions AND either above or below your diaphragm (muscle between your abdomen and chest).This is called "locally advanced disease."
  • Stage III: Cancer cells are on both sides of your diaphragm(above and below).This is called "advanced disease."
  • Stage IV: Cancer cells have spread to one or more of your body organs (bone, bone marrow, skin, liver, or lungs).This is called "widespread disease."

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Categories of Lymphoma

After the stage, lymphoma is again divided into "A," "B," or "E" categories depending on the type of symptoms you have:

  • A: no symptoms.
  • B: symptoms may include: fever, chills, night sweats, itching, and weight loss.
  • E: your lymphoma has spread from a lymph node directly to an organ.

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Tests for Lymphoma

You are likely to have many tests throughout your course of treatment.These help doctors diagnose lymphoma and see if it has spread. Here are some of the tests:

Tissue cells are taken out with a needle or by surgery.

Blood Tests
Blood is taken from your arm through a thin needle. Doctors then look at your red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets under a microscope.

Tissue Biopsy
A sample of bone marrow (the spongy material inside your bones) is taken from your hip using a thin needle.

Spinal Tap (lumbar puncture)
Fluid is taken from your spine (lower part of your back) using a thin needle.This is done only in certain situations.

CT Scan
A large machine (like an x-ray) takes pictures of your body from many angles.This shows doctors where the lymphoma tumors are in your body.

This test uses magnets and radio waves to show whether lymphoma has spread to your nervous system or other body organs.

This type of scan shows how well your heart muscle is working.

PET Scan
This type of scan shows doctors if certain lymph nodes still have the disease.

This test uses radiation to take pictures of the inside of your body.

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