Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that originates in lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Generally lymphoma occurs within the lymph nodes, which are part of the lymphatic system (a network of tissues and vessels that help control the fluid in the body) which is part of the immune system.7 However in some cases lymphoma can arise in other organs. This is known as extra-nodal lymphoma.
The lymphatic system is made up of lymphocytes, of which there are 2 main types: B-lymphocytes (which help to make antibodies to help protect the body from infection) and T-lymphocytes (which help to regulate the body’s immune function). 7
Lymphoma develops as a result of abnormal growth and development in these lymphocyte cells. There are two types of lymphoma that can occur:
- Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) – named after Dr Thomas Hodgkin who discovered the disease. It is rarer than non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and accounts for less than 1% of all cancers in New Zealand.4
- Abnormal B lymphocyte cells known as Reed-Sternberg cells are the malignant cell in HL.7
- Enlarged lymph nodes (most commonly around the neck) are usually noticed first.4
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) – accounts for approximately 90% of lymphomas. There are more than 60 different subtypes.8