What Is Hodgkin Lymphoma?

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Cancer occurs when cells in your body grow out of control. This type of uncontrolled cell growth can take place in nearly any part of the body. In many cases, this cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

Cancer starting in your white blood cells, called lymphocytes, is lymphoma. The two primary types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These cancers are very different in how they grow and respond to treatment.

About Hodgkin Lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma affects your lymphatic system, the part of your immune system that fights diseases and infections. Your lymphatic system also provides the fluid superhighway throughout your body, keeping your body fluids moving.

Your lymphatic system consists of two types of cells known as lymphocytes. These lymphocytes perform two different functions for your immune system:

  • B lymphocytes, B cells, make antibody proteins that protect your body from bacteria and viruses
  • T lymphocytes, T cells, destroy bacteria, viruses and abnormal cells in your body, with some also controlling the rate of other immune system cells’ activity

Hodgkin lymphoma usually begins in B cells.

How Hodgkin Lymphoma Spreads

Hodgkin lymphoma can begin in any part of your body with lymph tissue but it most often starts in the upper body lymph nodes, such as in the chest, neck and underarms. Your lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, adenoids and tonsils, and digestive tract all contain lymph tissue and work with your immune system to keep you healthy.

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.

Spleen

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.

Thymus

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.

Hodgkin lymphoma spreads quickly through your lymphatic system by means of the lymph vessels. The cancer spreads from lymph node to lymph node. Sometimes late in the disease this type of lymphoma gets into the bloodstream and spreads to other body parts, like the lungs, bone marrow or liver.