Lymphoma Treatment

Lymphomas are cancers that affect the white blood cells of the lymphatic system. This system includes hundreds of lymph nodes, which are found all over the body, and the lymphatic vessels that link the nodes.

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system, which helps protect you from illness. Lymphoma occurs when cells in the lymphatic system called lymphocytes become abnormal, and multiply to form more and more abnormal cells.

Facts about lymphoma

No one really knows why people get lymphoma. But some factors are known to raise your risk for lymphoma. For example, people who have certain immune system problems are more likely to develop lymphoma. Certain types of infections also raise the risk for lymphoma. Another risk factor is having a family member who has had lymphoma. Lymphoma can affect people of nearly any age, from children to teens to older adults.

Types of lymphoma

Lymphoma comes in many types, but all are divided into two main categories:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma. This type of lymphoma most often starts in a lymph node in the chest or neck, although it can start in other places. If it spreads, it tends to go to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can start almost anywhere in the body, including in lymph nodes and in different organs. It's more likely to spread to distant parts of the body.

The outlook for a person with Hodgkin lymphoma is often good, and the disease can be cured most of the time. There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and a person's outlook depends on which type he or she has.

Signs and symptoms of lymphoma

These are possible symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Lump or swelling, often without pain, in the neck, under the arms, or in the groin area

  • Persistent fever

  • Skin that feels itchy

  • Chronic coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Pain in the chest

  • Feeling weak and tired all the time

  • Sweating heavily at night

  • Losing weight without trying

  • Feeling the effects of alcohol more strongly, or noticing lymph node pain after drinking

Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can include:

  • Lump or swelling, often without pain, in the neck, under the arms, or in the groin area

  • Persistent fever

  • Chronic coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Pain in the chest

  • Feeling weak and tired all the time

  • Sweating heavily at night

  • Losing weight without trying

  • Pain or bloating in the belly

  • Skin rash


Both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are usually diagnosed with a test called a biopsy. During a biopsy, a needle may be inserted into the tumor to draw out some tissue, or a doctor may use surgery to remove part or all of a tumor, which is then studied under a microscope.

Your doctor may also run a few blood tests to get an idea of how advanced the cancer is, and what parts of your body it's affecting.

Other tests that may be done to help diagnose and find out more about lymphomas are a PET scan, CT scan, MRI scan, and a bone marrow biopsy.

Treating lymphoma

Treatment for lymphoma depends on many things. Doctors typically consider the type of lymphoma, as well as the parts of the body it's affecting and how far it's spread to help them figure out the best way to treat it.

These are treatment methods for lymphoma:

  • Chemotherapy. This uses drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body.

  • Radiation therapy. This uses waves of radiation to destroy cancer cells.

  • Immunotherapy. This boosts the immune system or uses man-made immune proteins to help fight the cancer.

  • Stem cell transplant. This lets doctors use very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells.

  • Watching and waiting. This monitors a slowly progressing lymphoma that may not require active treatment to get rid of the cancer.

Experts are also investigating new ways to treat lymphomas. Treatments like lymphoma vaccines are in research.

Managing lymphoma

After treatment ends, you should continue to see your doctor for follow-up screenings and care. Follow-up care includes looking for any signs that the cancer has returned. Follow-up care can also help to monitor and manage any long-term effects of treatment. Nerve damage, infertility, and heart problems are some of the possible long-term effects of lymphoma treatment that your doctor may monitor.

Preventing lymphoma

Experts don't yet understand how to prevent cancer most lymphomas, or even why they happen. Some lymphomas may be prevented by avoiding certain infections, but most lymphomas do not have known causes that can easily be prevented.

Finding help for lymphoma

Here are resources to help you find treatment information, specialists, clinical trials, and more on lymphoma:

Key points to remember

There are many types of lymphomas. Some grow slowly, while others can grow and spread quickly. That means that it's important to spot any symptoms early so that you can discuss them with your doctor as soon as possible.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/5/2012

Find a Lymphoma Specialist


Cancer Center Programs and Services