Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
in throat scan

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a general term for a large group of lymphatic cancers that comprise approximately 90% of all diagnosed lymphomas.

All lymphomas are defined as cancerous growth of lymphocytes, better known as white blood cells, which are the body's primary defense against infection and disease. In lymphoma, these lymphocytes mutate and reproduce uncontrollably, crowding out healthy cells and forming tumors.


Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a life-threatening disease and the incidence rate is on the rise, nearly doubling since the 1970s (American Cancer Society). Research advances, however, have greatly improved treatment and the number of lymphoma-related deaths is decreasing. the CDC highlights the following statistical trends for non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • The incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma among men in the United States increased by 0.4% per year from 1991 to 2005
  • The incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma among women in the United States increased by 1.2% per year from 1990 to 2005
  • Deaths from non-Hodgkin lymphoma among men in the United States decreased significantly by 3.0% per year from 1997 to 2005
  • Deaths from non-Hodgkin lymphoma among women in the United States decreased significantly by 3.7% per year from 1998 to 2005

According to the "U.S. Cancer Statistics: 2005 Incidence and Mortality Web based report," 55,216 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma were diagnosed in the United States in 2005 (the most recent year for which statistics area available), including 29,586 in males and 25,630 in females. That same year, 20,873 people died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including 11,131 males and 9,742 females. --HHS, CDC, NCI; 2009.

Classification of NHL

There are dozens of types of non-Hodgkin lymphomas [NHLs], classified by the types of affected cells and the rate of growth. For example, an "aggressive large cell follicular" lymphoma is a fast-growing ("aggressive") cancer of a type of thyroid cell. An indolent cutaneous t-cell lymphoma is a slower-growing cancer affecting the skin.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A medical team will make a diagnosis based on many factors including examination of the cancerous tissue. It is very important to get a precise diagnosis because treatments vary significantly for different types of NHL.

There are several treatments for NHL (specifics at Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma: Treatment). Most often chemotherapy is involved. If the lymphoma is localized, radiation therapy might be used in combination with chemotherapy.

In some types of advanced NHL, bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplants are employed for serious/unresponsive cases. For indolent lymphomas, some doctors may choose "Watch and Wait" to see how the disease progresses and presents itself.

As newer treatments become available such as immunotherapy, radioimmunotherapy (Zevalin ® is now FDA approved as a first-line treatment for certain follicular lymphoma cases), and monoclonal antibody therapy, mortality rates continue to improve despite increasing incidence rates.

Clinical Trials

Patients who are looking for more advanced treatment or who have lymphoma that does not respond to standard treatment may want to consider a clinical study.


What causes Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is still unknown. The current thinking is that there probably is a genetic factor and that the cancer may not start without a "trigger" such as an environmental factor. Please read our causes page for more information.


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