skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

What Is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma NHL?

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune (infection-fighting) system. It affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are made in bone marrow, lymph nodes (lymph glands), and spleen. NHL is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Most cases occur in men and women, usually older than 60.

What Causes NHL?

The cause is unknown. Weakening of the immune system by viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), organ transplantation medicines, and too much radiation may increase risks.

What Are the Symptoms of NHL?

The most common symptoms are swollen, painless lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin. Others include fever, chills, soaking night sweats, coughing, trouble breathing, chest pain, weakness, tiredness, weight loss, swollen legs and face, and abdominal pain and swelling. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headache, and itching can occur.

How Is NHL Diagnosed?

The doctor will make a diagnosis from a medical history, physical examination, blood tests, and lymph gland and bone marrow biopsy. In a biopsy, tissue taken from a gland or bone marrow is studied with a microscope. Other tests may include laparotomy, which is surgery on the abdomen (belly). X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) may be done for staging.

An oncologist (specialist in cancer treatment) will be involved in the care.

How Is NHL Treated?

Low-grade lymphomas have a longer life expectancy but cannot be cured. With aggressive treatment, some intermediate and high-grade lymphomas can be cured. About 60% of NHLs can be cured.

Some NHLs grow so slowly that treatments are given only if symptoms occur. This is called watching and waiting.

Medicines, radiation, and maybe bone marrow transplantation are used for treatment. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth or through a vein in the hospital, or at home or the doctor’s office. Biological treatment uses medicines made from substances produced by the body’s immune system. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays from machines or injections.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing NHL:

  • DO tell your health care provider about your medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter ones.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • DO talk to someone about the stress of having cancer. Call your health care provider if you feel depressed. Find support groups.
  • DO take care of your teeth and mouth to prevent mouth sores.
  • DO consider placing sperm in a sperm bank or eggs in an egg bank if you plan to have children.
  • DO remember that treatment is complex and involves a team: primary care health care provider, oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgeon, nutritionist, and social worker.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have swollen lymph glands or low back pain with numbness or pain down your legs.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have cough, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, diarrhea, bloody stools, fever, or bruising after radiation.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have fever after chemotherapy.
  • DON’T ignore swollen lymph glands.
  • DON’T miss follow-up appointments during and after treatments.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask questions about infertility, stress, fear, life insurance, and job discrimination.

Contact the following source:

  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
    Tel: (800) 955-4572
  • Lymphoma Research Association
    Tel: (212) 349-2910, (800) 235-6848
  • National Cancer Institute, Cancer Information Service
    Tel: (800) 4-CANCER
  • American Cancer Society
    Tel: (800) ACS-2345 (227-2345)

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor

Not sure which type of care is right for you?

We can help.