Understanding Lymphoma


About Lymphoma and Lymphoma Subtypes

Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer.  Specifically, lymphoma is a cancer that affects lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Lymphocytes travel through the blood and lymphatic system to defend the body against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.  Lymphomas usually develop when a change, or mutation, occurs within a lymphocyte, causing the abnormal cell to replicate faster than, or live longer than, a normal lymphocyte.  Like normal lymphocytes, cancerous lymphocytes can travel through the blood and lymphatic system and spread and grow in many parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and other organs.

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The three major categories of lymphoma include:

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia/Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (CLL/SLL): CLL/SLL are the same disease (and a type of lymphoma) with slightly different manifestations. Where the cancerous cells gather determines whether it is called CLL or SLL. Leukemic cells develop because of a change that takes place in the cell’s DNA. Approximately 19,000 people are diagnosed with CLL/SLL in the United States each year.

Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL): There are five types of HL, a form of lymphoma that involves the Reed-Sternberg cells. Approximately 9,000 people are diagnosed with HL in the United States each year.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL): There are more than 90 types of NHL, some of which are more common than others. Any lymphoma that is not CLL/SLL or that does not involve Reed-Sternberg cells is classified as a non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Approximately 81,560 people are diagnosed with NHL each year in the United States.

To learn more about a specific type of lymphoma, select from the following menu:

Signs and Symptoms

Certain symptoms are not specific to lymphoma and are, in fact, similar to those of many other illnesses. People often first go to the doctor because they think they have a cold, the flu, or some other infection that does not go away.

Common symptoms include:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes, which may or may not be painless
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sweating (often at night)
  • Chills
  • Lack of energy
  • Itching

Most people who have these non-specific symptoms will not have lymphoma. However, it is important that anyone with persistent symptoms be examined by a doctor to make sure lymphoma is not present.

More Information

Adolescent and Young Adult Lymphoma

Each year, nearly 70,000 adolescents and young adults (AYA) are diagnosed with cancer; and lymphoma, the most common type of blood cancer, accounts for nearly 1-in-5 cancer diagnoses among young people.


Blood cancers, including lymphoma, are extremely heterogeneous and can involve a variety of treatment options, often in combination.