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Supporting people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
What is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Keypoints

  • A biopsy, or sample, of cells affected by non-Hodgkin's lymphoma allows the doctors to work out the specific type of disease
  • Most people have abnormal B cells, which are either still well organised (follicular) or not (diffuse)
  • Classification (indolent or aggressive) and staging have more influence on treatment than the type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Within the classifications of indolent and aggressive, there are many different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There are many tests that can find out what type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma a patient has. The results from these give the doctor extra information about the way that the disease is likely to behave and the best treatment for it. The type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is decided by:

  • The sort of abnormal cells in the lymphoma (mainly B cells or T cells)
  • The appearance of affected lymph nodes
  • The types of proteins, or markers, on the surface of the abnormal cells

Deciding the type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma requires a piece of tissue for analysis under the microscope and in the laboratory. Most patients have a biopsy, in which an affected lymph node, or part of it, is removed surgically.

Most people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have abnormal B cells, or B cell lymphoma. T cell non-Hodgkin's lymphomas are much more rare and are more likely to be seen in children and young adults.

If the affected lymph nodes have retained something like their normal arrangement of cells when viewed under the microscope, the lymphoma is said to be follicular. If not, the lymphoma is said to be diffuse. In general, follicular lymphomas tend to belong to the indolent classification, whereas diffuse lymphomas tend to belong to the aggressive classification.

The markers on the surface of the abnormal cells can help in further deciding the type of lymphoma, and may have an influence on the best treatment to use. As there are more than 30 types of lymphoma, choosing the right treatment is a complex subject and it is not possible to easily generalise across types. It is therefore important that patients discuss any questions they might have with their specialist. For more information, see How non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is treated.

The table shows the main types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma Aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Follicular lymphoma Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
Diffuse small cleaved cell lymphoma Mantle cell lymphoma
MALT lymphoma Adult lymphoblastic lymphoma
Small lymphocytic lymphoma Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia Burkitt's lymphoma
Note: The types within each classification can vary significantly, and treatments are often different for each type

 

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