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