Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer.

The main types of childhood lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphomas start in the lymphatic system, the network of vessels that runs throughout the body carrying white blood cells and other important immune system cells. This system includes the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes (small glands found along the vessels of the lymphatic system that filter out bacteria and other toxins) and lymphatic vessels (a network of thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells). Lymph nodes respond to infections by releasing white blood cells called lymphoid cells (also known as lymphocytes) into the blood stream to fight it off. Among others, two specific types of lymphoid cells are found in this system: B-cells, which generate proteins called antibodies that protect us from infection, and T-cells, which directly kill viruses.

In the UK, Lymphoma accounts for around 10% of all cancers diagnosed in children (1). Lymphomas are rare before the age of four and incidence increases with age thereafter such that lymphomas account for nearly a fifth (around 19%) of all childhood cancers diagnosed in 10-14-year-olds in the UK (1).

There are two main types of lymphoma:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma (also known as Hodgkin’s disease)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for around 44% of all lymphomas diagnosed in children in the UK (1). Although the cure rate is high, it’s easily mistaken for other diseases, like glandular fever. Finding a simple way to diagnose it earlier would help children avoid unnecessary illness, and maybe mean less intensive treatment. 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.

Proteins secreted by tumour cells can be detected in the blood. We’re testing whether this can be used in the early detection of tumours.

Prof Ruth Jarrett, University of Glasgow.

Professor Ruth Jarrett, who we’re funding to find a simple way to diagnose Hodgkin lymphoma earlier in children and avoid unnecessary illness.

Learn more about Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma lymphoma includes all types of lymphoma except Hodgkin lymphoma. It is the most common lymphoma in children (1). There are two main types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma: B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (including Burkitt lymphoma), which usually arises in lymph nodes of the neck or the abdomen, and T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which arises in the thymus which is located in the chest above the heart. This difference is important as B-cell and T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas require different types of chemotherapy treatment.

Molly was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when she was eight years old.

Because I’ve gone through this at such a young age, I feel I have grown up much more quickly than anyone else my age. I am very aware of when I feel ill and towards the end of my treatment I began to suffer with anxiety. Funding childhood cancer research is so important because research works and more children’s lives are being saved because of it.

Molly, 18 years old.

Read Molly’s childhood cancer story

Lymphoma symptoms

The most common symptoms for Hodgkin lymphoma in children include:

  • Persistent (lasting a few weeks) painless swelling of the lymph nodes,
    usually in the neck, armpit, chest or groin;
  • Cough or breathlessness can occur if the glands in the chest
    are affected;
  • Fevers, sweats, itching and weight loss can occur; or
  • Tiredness
 

 

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer symptoms in children include:

  • Painless swelling of the lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit or groin;
  • Cough or breathlessness can occur if the glands in the chest are affected;
  • Stomach pains if abdominal lymph glands are affected;
  • Fevers and sweats;
  • Tiredness;
  • Weight loss;
  • Bowel obstruction;
  • Feeling full after a small meal; or
  • Sleep sweats

Lymphoma survival rate

Thanks to breakthroughs in research, five year survival from lymphoma in children have increased over the years. However, there are still differences in the survival rate for the different types of childhood lymphomas.

Hodgkin lymphoma – The 5-year survival rate for childhood Hodgkin lymphoma is over 97% in the UK (1). Almost all children with this cancer can be cured. It is important to note that survival rates vary depending on the stage of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma –  The majority of children can be treated successfully, with an overall five-year survival rate of OVER 89% in the UK (1).

Sources:
(1) Children, teenagers and young adults UK cancer statistics report 2021, Public Health England