What Is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

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There are many types of cancer, a disease that starts when cells in your body grow out of control. Cancer affects almost any body part and can easily spread from one region of the body to another.

The cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts in your white blood cells, lymphocytes, an important part of your immune system. This is one of two types of lymphoma, with the other type being Hodgkin lymphoma.

Role of Your Lymphatic System in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Your lymphatic system is part of your body’s immunity, helping in the fight against infections, viruses, bacteria and diseases. The lymphatic system moves body fluids through its network of lymphatic vessels, too.

Lymphocytes are white blood cells that help your body fight infections. The two types of lymphocytes include B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes.

B Lymphocytes

Also called B cells, these lymphocytes help your body in its ongoing war against bacteria and viruses. These cells make antibodies that attach to bacteria and viruses, marking them as targets for the rest of the immune system to destroy.

T Lymphocytes

Called T cells, these lymphocytes destroy abnormal or germ cells in your body. They also help speed up or slow down your other immune system cells’ activity.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts in either of the two types of lymphocytes. But more non-Hodgkin lymphomas affecting Americans start in the B cells. Each of these cell types can develop different types of lymphoma, depending on factors like the cells’ maturity when they become cancerous.

How Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Spreads

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts anywhere you have lymph tissue. Lymph tissues include your lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, adenoids and tonsils, and digestive tract. These tissues work with your immune system for good health.

Lymph Nodes

In your chest, abdomen and pelvis are small groups of lymphocytes and other immunity cells called lymph nodes. These nodes connect to each other by lymphatic vessels.


Your spleen is a small organ under your ribs on the left side of your body. The spleen stores healthy blood cells, cleans damaged blood cells from your system, makes lymphocytes and makes other immunity cells.

Bone Marrow

Bone marrow, a spongy material inside some bones, makes new blood cells.


Located in front of your heart behind the top of your breastbone, your thymus makes T cells for the lymphatic system.

Adenoids and Tonsils

Located in the back of your throat, your adenoids and tonsils help make antibodies against bacteria and viruses you inhale or swallow.

Digestive Tract

Many organs, such as your stomach and intestines, participate in your immunity by protecting your body from infections, viruses, bacteria and diseases. These organs have lymph tissue.

The lymph vessels spread non-Hodgkin lymphoma through your lymph system, in its vessels. The lymph vessels carry your cancer cells from lymph node to lymph node. Some of these cancer cells can find their way into your bloodstream to spread to other body parts, such as the lungs, liver or bone marrow.

Treatment for your non-Hodgkin lymphoma depends on its type. This is why doctors must determine your exact type of lymphoma before your treatment planning begins.