Hodgkin's Lymphoma Explained: Symptoms, Characteristics, and Statistics

Hodgkin's Lymphoma a.k.a. Hodgkin's Disease is a malignant (cancerous) growth of cells in the lymphatic system.

Named after Quaker physician Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), Lymphatic disease was first described in 1666 by Malpighi. Hodgkin, however, published a paper in 1832 titled On Some Morbid Appearances of the Absorbent Glands and Spleen that documented case studies and his name was attached to the disease by Wilks in 1865 (for more history, see this brief timeline)

What differentiates Hodgkin's lymphoma is the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells in the cancerous tissue. The presence of these cells, detectable only through an open biopsy, is the defining characteristic of Hodgkin's disease, as opposed to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, for the layperson, Hodgkin's lymphoma tends to produce more obvious symptoms than its more common counterpart; these symptoms often lead to early detection and the treatment of Hodgkin's disease is often very successful.

Risk Factors Include

  • Age/Sex: Hodgkin's Lymphoma occurs most often in people aged 15–34 and in people over the age of 55. It is more common in men than in women, and rarely seen in children under 5.
  • Family History: Brothers and sisters of those with Hodgkin's disease are more at risk.
  • Epstein-Barr virus: Those with Epstein-Barr virus (better known as mononucleosis) appear to be at higher risk, as the virus has been detected in approximately 40% of cases.
  • Immune system impairment (such as HIV/AIDS)
  • Exposure to environmental carcinogens, pesticides, herbicides, viruses, and bacteria

Common Symptoms

  • A painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin
  • Unexplained recurrent fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchy skin (pruritus)

Characteristics of Hodgkin's Lymphoma

  • Hodgkin's lymphoma tends to affect contiguous lymphatic regions, as opposed to non-Hodgkin's varieties which tend to attack the the lymphatic system in a more random, non-contiguous pattern.
  • Due to improved diagnosis and treatment, survival rates are over 80% in most cases according to the National Cancer Institute.
  • Hodgkin's disease can spread beyond the lypmphatic system
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma is not contagious

Hodgkin's Lymphoma Statistics

According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (figures for U.S. population):

  • An estimated 8,220 cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma will be diagnosed in 2008.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma represents about 11 percent of all lymphomas diagnosed in 2008.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma will represent about 3.7 percent of all cancer diagnosed for patients under age 15.
  • From ages 1 to 9, more Hispanic children are diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma than non-Hispanic white children.
  • From ages 10-19, more non-Hispanic white children are diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma than children of other races or ethnic groups.
  • The five-year relative survival rate for patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma has increased from 40 percent in whites from 1960-1963 to more than 86 percent for all races in 1996-2004.

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