What is high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)?

Updated 24 Oct 2017

High-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a blood cancer that affects a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes.

There are many different types of NHL, which are often grouped depending on how quickly the cancer grows and spreads: high-grade, which develops quickly, and low-grade, which develops more slowly.

Watch Dr Kirit Ardeshna explain high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma

What causes high-grade NHL?

When you’re diagnosed with any cancer, one of the first things you might think is: why me?

In most cases, we can’t say what causes high-grade NHL. There are some factors that could make you more likely to develop high-grade NHL.

How common is NHL?

Around 10,000 people are diagnosed with NHL every year in the UK.

About two-thirds of people diagnosed with NHL will get the high-grade type of the disease. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) makes up about one-third of all cases of NHL.

Age

You can get high-grade NHL at any age, but it’s more common in over 65s. Children rarely get DLBCL, but some other types of high-grade NHL can be slightly more common in children.

Gender

Men are slightly more likely than women to develop high-grade NHL; we don’t know why.

Family history

It isn’t really known if there’s a definite link between family members getting NHL, although there may be a slightly increased risk. Most people who get NHL don’t have a relative who has it, so the risk is small.

Infections

You might have a higher risk of getting NHL if you’ve had some viral infections, including the HIV virus and human T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1).

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes glandular fever, can sometimes lead to NHL. This virus is common, but only a very small number of people who get the virus go on to develop NHL.

It’s important to remember that although these viruses can be passed from person to person, you can’t catch lymphoma from someone else. A lot of things have to happen after you get the virus for you to develop NHL.

Radiation

If you’ve been exposed to high levels of radiation, you may have a higher chance of getting NHL.

It’s very unlikely that anyone in the UK would be exposed to the amount of radiation needed to be linked to NHL.

Transformation of low-grade NHL

In some patients, low-grade NHL can change in nature to become a faster-growing high-grade NHL. This is called transformation. This happens in around a third of people with low-grade NHL.

Watch Dr Kirit Ardeshna, Consultant Haematologist at University College London Hospitals, talk about who gets high-grade NHL.

Information and resources on NHL

As the information isn't produced by Bloodwise, we can't guarantee the content of these pages. We've marked information which is more suitable for healthcare professionals.

Blood and bone marrow

Blood components from the NHS Blood and Transplant

The immune system

What is immunology? from the British Society for Immunology

Incidence

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma incidence statistics from Cancer Research UK

QuickStats on incidence of blood cancers from the Haematological Malignancy Research Network

Causes

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma – general discussion of NHL on Patient.co.uk [for healthcare professionals]

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risks and causes from Cancer Research UK

Signs and symptoms

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Cancer Research UK

Tests and investigations

Lab tests online – Department of Health approved website with details on tests and investigations

Treatment

Types of treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Cancer Research UK

Follow-up

Follow up for non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Cancer Research UK

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