Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a group of cancers of the white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes protect the body from infection and disease. There are three different kinds of lymphocytes (B cells, T cells, and NK cells) that can become cancerous. Most cases of NHL involve B cells. These types of cancers are called non-Hodgkin lymphoma in order to distinguish them from another kind of cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma. There are more than 30 types of NHL. The disease begins when a lymphocyte changes into a cancer cell that divides and grows into more and more cancer cells. These cells join together to form tumors (lymphomas) in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. NHL can occur at any age, but most people are diagnosed after the age of 60. The cause of NHL is unknown in most cases.
Risk factors
  • Older age. Most cases of NHL occur in people age 60 and over.
  • Gender. The risk of NHL is higher in men than in women.
  • Race/ethnicity. In the US, whites are more likely to develop NHL than African Americans or Asian Americans.
  • Geography. NHL is more common in developed countries (US and Europe have some of the highest rates).
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and drugs. Certain herbicides and insecticides are linked to an increased risk of NHL. 
  • Radiation exposure. Survivors of atomic bombs and nuclear reactor accidents have an increased risk. Also, patients who have undergone radiation therapy to treat other cancers. 
  • Weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, HIV/AIDS, and certain gentetic syndromes may increase risk.
  • Some types of infections
  • Being overweight or obese
Tests and procedures used to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:
  • Physical examination to determine the size and condition of the lymph nodes, and find out if the liver and spleen are enlarged.
  • Blood and urine tests may help rule out infection or other diseases 
  • Imaging tests to look for tumors in the body:
  • X-ray
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Posotron emission tomography (PET)
  • Your doctor may want to remove a sample of lymph node tissue for testing in a lab. This is known as a biopsy procedure, and can reveal the presence of NHL and which type it is.
  • Bone marrow biopsy to find out if the disease is affecting the marrow. Bone marrow is extracted by inserting a needle into the pelvic bone. 
Depending largely on the type and stage of the lymphoma, treatment options for people with NHL include: 
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy (usually combined with chemotherapy)
  • Targeted therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • NHL is one of the most common cancers in the US, accounting for approximately 4% of all cancer cases.
  • About 72,240 people will be diagnosed with NHL in the US this year
  • Approximately 20,140 Americans will die from NHL
  • The average lifetime risk of developing NHL in the US is about 1 in 50
  • More than half of people with NHL are 65 or older at the time of diagnosis
about non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

  • "Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment." American Cancer Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017.
  • "Signs and Symptoms." Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 July 2017.
  • "Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Risk Factors." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 17 July 2017.
  • "Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 17 July 2017.
  • "Diagnosis." Stanford Health Care (SHC) - Stanford Medical Center. N.p., 20 Apr. 2016. Web. 17 July 2017.


The size and arrangement of atypical cells help pathologists identify which type of Hodgkin’s or NHL a patient has. According to the Lymphoma Research Foundation, there are six types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and more than 61 types of NHL. While the differences in Hodgkin’s and NHL can be microscopic, there are several distinctions that are clearer. Here are three differences in Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
understanding lymphoma - hodgkin's vs. non-hodgkin's


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