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Lymphoma: Introduction

Thank you for visiting the Emory  Winship Cancer Institute website to learn more about the Lymphoma Program. You will find general  information about lymphoma and the lymphatic system, descriptions of the services available at Lymphoma Program, information you need to know prior to arrival, what to expect on a first visit, and what to expect during treatment.

At the Emory Winship Cancer Institute we never lose sight of the importance of delivering one-on-one personalized care. Please contact us if you have questions.

Lymphoma Program Coordinator: 
Barbara Copeland
Phone: 404-778-3942
Fax: 404-778-5520

About Lymphoma

What is the lymphatic system?

What is lymphoma?

What are the types of Lymphomas?

How common is lymphoma?

What are the signs and symptoms of lymphoma?

What are the risk factors for lymphoma?

The Lymphatic SystemLymphatic System Illustration
The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system that helps protect the body against infection. Parts of the lymphatic system include lymphocytes, both B-cells (that make antibodies) and T-cells (that protect body against viruses, fungi, some bacteria), lymph nodes (bean sized organs located throughout the body and connected by lymphatic vessels), the spleen (that makes lymphocytes and other immune system cells to fight infection), and bone marrow (that makes red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets).

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What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system that occurs when white blood cells, also called lymphocytes begin behaving abnormally. Abnormal lymphocytes may divide faster than normal cells or they may live longer than they are supposed to.

Lymphoma can affect any part of the lymphatic system including lymph tissue found in organs such as the stomach or intestines. Since lymphocytes (white blood cells) can circulate to all parts of the body through the lymphatic vessels and bloodstream, abnormal lymphocytes can reach any part of the body. Thus, lymphomas can start in or spread to any part of the body. While some lymphomas are localized to one area, many are present in other parts of the body by the time the diagnosis is confirmed.

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Types of Lymphomas

Hodgkin's Lymphoma
First recognized in 1832 by Dr. Thomas Hodgkin and is characterized by Reed-Sternberg cells (an abnormal B lymphocyte).

Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma i
Made up of B and T cell types with B- cell lymphomas being the most common. Lymphomas are usually divided into indolent, aggressive, and very aggressive types based on growth pattern.

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How common is lymphoma?
The number of people with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL) has increased significantly over the past 20 years. Since the early 1970s, the number of individuals diagnosed each year with NHL has nearly doubled. It has grown from being a relatively uncommon disease to being the fifth most common cancer in the United States. The reasons for this increase are unclear. The disease occurs in adult's age 40 and older in most of cases.

Hodgkin's Lymphoma is a less common form of lymphoma occurring mainly in young adults, with a peak occurrence between ages 16 and 34. Older patients also may develop HL.

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Signs and Symptoms
Typical signs and symptoms include non-tender enlarged lymph nodes and may also include generalized symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats or severe itching. If there is bone marrow involvement symptoms may include anemia, low platelets, and frequent infections. While most people who have these complaints will not have NHL, anyone with persistent symptoms should be seen by a doctor to make sure that lymphoma is not present.

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Risk Factors
The causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma remain unknown, but immune system impairment and exposure to environmental carcinogens, pesticides, herbicides, viruses, and bacteria may play a role. There may be a higher risk for getting NHL in individuals:

  • With a family history of NHL (though no hereditary pattern has been well established)
  • Affected with autoimmune disease
  • Who have received an organ transplant
  • Exposed to chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, or solvents
  • Infected with viruses such as Epstein-Barr, human T-lymphotropic virus type 1, HIV, hepatitis C, or certain bacteria, such as H-pylori

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