There are two types of lymphoma – Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This information is about Hodgkin lymphoma. We have other information about non-Hodgkin lymphoma (high-grade and low-grade).

We also have a booklet on Hodgkin lymphoma which you can download or order free of charge.

What is Hodgkin lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects your lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). Lymphocytes are part of your immune system and fight infections in your body. When you have Hodgkin lymphoma, some of your lymphocytes become cancerous and multiply in an abnormal way.

These cancerous lymphocytes cluster together in your glands (lymph nodes), attracting normal white blood cells and causing lumps to form. Usually, the lumps will be in your neck, but you can get them anywhere you have lymph nodes and also in some organs.

Because Hodgkin lymphoma affects your lymphocytes, it means your body is less able to fight off infections.

Lymphocytes and lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system, so Hodgkin lymphoma is also called a cancer of the lymphatic system. There is more information about the lymphatic system and immune system in our general lymphoma information.

There are two main types of lymphoma – Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both types of lymphoma affect your lymphocytes. But in Hodgkin lymphoma, the cancerous lymphocytes are called Reed-Sternberg cells. If you have a lymph node biopsy and these cells are found in your sample, you will get a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.

If you want to know more about lymphocytes and other blood cells, there is information about different types of blood cells in our general blood cancer information.

Types of Hodgkin lymphoma

There are two main types of Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • classical Hodgkin lymphoma
  • nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL).

Classical Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common type of Hodgkin lymphoma. NLPHL accounts for 10% of Hodgkin lymphoma cases. Make sure you check with your specialist which is the right information for you.

For information on nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL), go to the Lymphoma Action website.

What causes Hodgkin lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma is quite rare, but there are still around 2,000 people diagnosed with it each year in the UK, which is about three people in 100,000.

It’s important to understand that you can’t catch lymphoma, or pass it on to someone else.

In most cases we don’t know what causes Hodgkin lymphoma, but there are some things which can make the risk of developing the disease slightly higher.

Age

Children and adults of all ages can develop Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is most common in young adults and people over 75.

Sex

In the UK, Hodgkin lymphoma is slightly more common in men than in women – we don’t know why.

Lowered immunity

You’re more likely to get Hodgkin lymphoma if you have problems with your immune system because of another health condition (e.g. HIV or rheumatoid arthritis), or because you’ve had an organ transplant and are taking drugs to stop the new organ being rejected.

Epstein-Barr virus

This causes glandular fever, and people who’ve been exposed to it may have a slightly higher risk of getting Hodgkin lymphoma. But as Hodgkin lymphoma is rare, your risk of getting it is very low even if you’ve had glandular fever.

Family history

Hodgkin lymphoma isn’t a hereditary disease (one that runs in families), though there’s some evidence that having a parent, child, brother or sister with Hodgkin lymphoma or another blood or lymphatic cancer can slightly increase your risk. We don’t know if this is because of a genetic fault or if it’s because members of the same family are more likely to have the same type of lifestyle.

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