Cancer Council Australia

Join our network

Facebook Twitter Instagram
Pinterest Youtube RSS

Larger Text Smaller Text Print

Lymphoma



about this glossary tool
Contents

What is lymphoma?

Lymphomas refers to types of cancer that begin in the lymphatic system (the various lymph glands around the body). Lymphomas are the sixth most common form of cancer overall (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).1

There are two main types of lymphoma, which spread and are treated differently:

In 2013, 5589 new cases of lymphoma were diagnosed in Australia. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is over six times more common, with 4978 new cases diagnosed in 2013, compared with 611 cases of Hodgkin lymphoma.

The risk of being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma by age 85 is 1 in 40. The risk of being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma by age 85 is 1 in 410. There are around 40 subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and they vary in how fast they grow and spread, and how sick people feel. They are not all treated the same.

In 2014, there were 1598 deaths caused by lymphomas in Australia (1504 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma; 94 from Hodgkin lymphoma).

The five-year survival rate for people with lymphoma, across the many subtypes, is 75%.

The incidence of lymphomas in Australia has over the past 20 years and is continuing to rise. Multiple studies have found no clear reason for the increase. Compared with a number of preventable cancers, there is only a weak association between lymphoma and known risk factors (see following). So, while a healthy lifestyle helps reduce your overall cancer risk, most individual cases of lymphoma cannot be attributed to any specific cause. Research continues.


Lymphoma symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • unexplained fever
  • swelling of one or more lymph glands such as in the neck, armpits, or at the angles of the legs
  • swollen abdomen
  • abnormal sweating, especially at night
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • bruising or bleeding easily
  • weight loss
  • rash or itching.

Causes of lymphoma

Exposure to radiation and certain types of chemicals can put some people at higher risk. Benzene and some agricultural chemicals have been implicated; people exposed in the workplace, who can be at highest risk, should follow occupational health guidelines to minimise exposure. For people whose immune system is suppressed, exposure to viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus or HIV can also be at increased risk of lymphoma. 

Top


Diagnosis for lymphoma

Tests usually used to diagnose lymphoma include:

  • imaging tests including CT, MRI and PET scans
  • blood tests
  • gland biopsy
  • bone marrow biopsy
  • laparotomy or thoracotomy (may be necessary to obtain a gland for diagnosis).

The most important test is a biopsy. Whilst a needle aspirate biopsy is easier, it can miss a diagnosis of lymphoma and so an "open biopsy" to obtain a larger section of the affected lymph gland or part of the body is much more likely to provide an accurate diagnosis. 


Treatment for lymphoma

Treatment depends on the type of lymphoma, the stage of the disease (i.e. how far it has spread around the body) and how fast it is likely to grow.

Staging

The extent of the cancer is determined by a CT scan of the abdomen and bone marrow biopsy. A PET scan, where available, provides extra information about distant spread, including to bones. CT scans show enlarged lymph glands; whereas a PET scan shows lymph glands that are metabolically abnormally active (but may not yet be swollen) and may be the more accurate test for staging.

Types of treatment

Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and monoclonal antibodies. Surgery, which can be successful to remove early breast, bowel and a number of other cancers, doesn't work in lymphoma. In some cases, a stem cell transplant with strong chemotherapy just beforehand is required if the lymphoma has recurred or where there is a high likelihood of recurrence in the future.

Early Hodgkin disease is treated with combination chemotherapy plus radiotherapy. Radiotherapy may be required for bulky or non-responding sites.

For patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, some can be managed with localised radiotherapy alone, or radiotherapy plus combination chemotherapy.

If the non-Hodgkin lymphoma is fast-growing, or "aggressive", successful treatment usually requires starting chemotherapy immediately. For early-stage disease and advanced stages with bulky sites, “involved field radiotherapy”, which only targets the affected site, is usually required.

Palliative care

In some cases of lymphoma, your medical team may talk to you about palliative care. Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer, without aiming to cure it.

As well as slowing the spread of lymphoma, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies. 

Top


Screening for lymphoma

There are no routine screening tests, and no direct blood tests, for lymphoma. Surveillance is recommended for individuals at risk of immunodeficiency-associated lymphoma and people with a family history of lymphoma. Lymphoma doesn't run in families and family members of an affected individual need not be tested.


Prognosis of lymphoma

An individual's prognosis usually depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as their age and general health at the time of diagnosis.  


Preventing lymphoma

There are no proven measures to prevent lymphoma, except potentially the avoidance of causes such as HIV infection. 


Source

Understanding Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Cancer Council NSW ©2015. Last medical review of this booklet: December 2015

Understanding Hodgkin Lymphoma, Cancer Council NSW © 2017. Last medical review of this booklet: May 2017

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. Cancer in Australia 2017. Cancer series no. 101. Cat. no. CAN 100. Canberra: AIHW

1) Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer according to general practice and hospitals data, however there is no reporting of cases to cancer registries.

Top

For more information

Sources

  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. Canberra: AIHW.
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012. Cancer series no. 74. Cat. no. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW.

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, February 26, 2014