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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a term that refers to many, very different types of cancer of the lymph system. Lymphoma begins when cells in the lymph system change and grow uncontrollably, which may form a tumor. The lymph system is made up of thin tubes that branch out to all parts of the body. Its job is to fight infection and disease. The lymph system carries lymph, a colorless fluid containing lymphocytes (white blood cells). Lymphocytes fight germs in the body. B-lymphocytes (also called B cells) make antibodies to fight bacteria, and T-lymphocytes (also called T cells) kill viruses and foreign cells and trigger the B cells to make antibodies.
Groups of tiny, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes are located throughout the body at different sites in the lymph system. Lymph nodes are found in clusters in the abdomen, groin, pelvis, underarms, and neck. Other parts of the lymph system include the spleen, which makes lymphocytes and filters blood; the thymus, an organ under the breastbone; the tonsils, located in the throat; and the bone marrow, the spongy red tissue inside bones that produces white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets (cells that help the blood clot).
Because lymph tissue is found in so many parts of the body, NHL can start almost anywhere and can spread to almost any organ in the body. It most often begins in the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, or bone marrow, but can also involve the stomach, intestines, skin, thyroid gland, and brain or any other part of the body.
There are different types and many subtypes of NHL. It is very important to know which type and subtype has been diagnosed because the type and subtype help doctors determine the best treatment and a patient's chance of recovery. Specific information can be found in Subtypes of NHL.
This section covers NHL in adults. Learn more about childhood NHL.
Looking for More of an Overview?
If you would like additional introductory information, explore the following items on Cancer.Net:
- ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a one-page fact sheet (available in PDF) that offers an easy-to-print introduction for this type of cancer.
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- Cancer.Net Patient Education Video: View a short video led by an ASCO expert in this type of cancer that provides basic information and areas of research.
Symptoms and Signs
About Clinical Trials
Late Effects of Treatment
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