Lymphomas start in the lymphatic system, the network of vessels that runs throughout the body carrying fluid containing white blood and other important immune system cells. Lymph nodes respond to infections by releasing white blood cells called lymphoid cells into the blood stream to fight it off.
When someone has lymphoma, lots of abnormal lymphoid or lymphoma cells are produced within a particular lymph node.
These are the same cells that become cancerous in people who have leukaemia, another form of blood cancer. The difference is that leukaemia develops in the bone marrow and affects normal blood cell production. Lymphoma, on the other hand, develops in the lymphatic system and does not affect normal blood cell production.
In patients with lymphoma the cancer cells cluster in the lymph nodes and form tumours. These cells can also spill into the blood stream and spread the cancer around the body, including to other lymph nodes.
Hodgkin lymphoma tends to affect the lymph nodes in the head and neck whereas non-Hodgkin lymphoma can affect any lymph node or related tissue in the body
Hodgkin lymphoma is distinguished from other types of lymphoma by the type of cancer cell formed – the Reed-Sternberg cell – which is not found in any other blood cancer.
The exact cause of the Hodgkin lymphoma cancer is unknown. However, there is increasing evidence that infections (such as the virus that causes glandular fever) may play a part in its development, especially when it occurs in children.
It has been reported to occur more frequently among young children from developing countries than among those from countries of advanced socio-economic status. There is an increased risk of the disease among parents, siblings and identical twins of lymphoma patients.
Hodgkin lymphomas account for 41 per cent of all childhood lymphoma diagnoses – around 60 children a year in the UK.
The disease predominantly affects older children, with two-thirds of cases occurring in the 10-14 year age group and no cases in infants.
Hodgkin lymphomas are almost twice as common among boys as among girls. This male excess becomes less marked with increasing age.
The five year hodgkin lymphoma survival rate is 96 per cent and almost all children with this cancer can be cured.
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