Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma: Definition, Location, Signs & Treatments

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  • 0:01 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
  • 1:24 Where Is Non-Hodgkin's…
  • 2:16 Symptoms of…
  • 4:24 Treatment of…
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system and involves the lymphocytes. Learn where this cancer occurs in the body as well as the signs and treatment options for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in this lesson.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Let's say that you just moved into a small apartment and you decided to invite a few friends over for a party. Sounds like fun! Now, let's say your friends each decided to invite another friend to your party. And let's say that each of those friends brought a date. If everyone stays, it won't be long before you have wall-to-wall people squeezed into a very limited space.

This is sort of what happens with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in the lymphocytes of the lymphatic system. Now, you might recall that your lymphatic system contains tissues, such as the lymph nodes, bone marrow, and the spleen, that are important for immunity and blood cell formation. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma something disrupts the normal life cycle of one type of blood cell, a white blood cell, called a lymphocyte.

With this disorder there's a defect that causes the old lymphocytes to live too long and not die off as we would expect to see. Because new lymphocytes are continuously added and old ones are hanging around, we get an overcrowding of lymphocytes in the lymph nodes causing them to swell, much like the growing number of party guests cause an overcrowding in your apartment. Let's take a closer look at where non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurs in the body and what signs develop in a person with this form of cancer.

Where Is Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Located?

If you look closely at the name non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, you notice the word 'lymph' embedded within this term. This is the biggest clue that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma originates in the lymphatic system and that it involves the lymphocytes. The disorder typically starts with cancerous lymphocytes within the lymph nodes or other lymphoid tissues. Keep in mind that you have lymphoid tissues all over your body, so you can't say that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma always starts in your head, or your chest, or your abdomen.

The fact is that this disorder can start anywhere within the lymphatic system and then can spread. As a side note, it is also good to point out that other types of cancer can get their start in body organs, such as your lungs or colon, and then spread to your lymph tissues, but only lymphomas get their start in the lymphatic system.

Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

As you may have noticed, the lymph nodes seem to be pretty significant in our discussion on non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. So it probably won't surprise you that one of the signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is swollen lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped tissues spread throughout your body. When they get overcrowded with lymphocytes like we talked about at the beginning of this lesson, they swell. Some of your lymph nodes are close to the surface of your skin, so you can feel them when they are swollen. This would be true of lymph nodes in your neck, under your arms, and in the groin area.

If you feel these lymph nodes, it does not automatically mean you have cancer. As you remember, we see lymph tissues are part of your body's immune system, so if you have a sore throat or a cold, your lymph nodes will often enlarge and then return to normal when you are feeling better.

Other general symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include some things that you might expect when your body is not functioning properly, such as fatigue and fever. Additional symptoms that may raise a red flag in a person suspected of having this disease are night sweats that may be severe enough to drench the sheets of the bed, and unexplained weight loss.

Now, we stated that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can start anywhere in the lymphatic system and that it can spread. Because of this, symptoms can vary depending on where the problem is found. If the condition is focused in the abdomen, symptoms, such as abdominal pain or swelling or a feeling of fullness, may be present due to the build-up of fluids or the enlargement of lymph tissue in this area.

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