Introduction 

Hodgkin lymphoma is an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and glands spread throughout your body.

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system. Clear fluid called lymph flows through the lymphatic vessels and contains infection-fighting white blood cells, known as lymphocytes.

In Hodgkin lymphoma, B-lymphocytes (a particular type of lymphocyte) start to multiply in an abnormal way and begin to collect in certain parts of the lymphatic system, such as the lymph nodes (glands). The affected lymphocytes lose their infection-fighting properties, making you more vulnerable to infection.

The most common symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, usually in the neck, armpit or groin.

Read more about the symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Who's affected?

Hodgkin lymphoma can develop at any age, but it mostly affects young adults in their early 20s and older adults over the age of 70. Slightly more men than women are affected.

Around 1,900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in the UK each year.

What causes Hodgkin lymphoma?

The exact cause of Hodgkin lymphoma is unknown. However, your risk of developing the condition is increased if:

  • you have a medical condition that weakens your immune system
  • you take immunosuppressant medication
  • you've previously been exposed to a common virus called the Epstein-Barr virus  which causes glandular fever

You also have an increased risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma if a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) has had the condition.

Read more about the causes of Hodgkin lymphoma.

How Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed

The only way to confirm a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma is by carrying out a biopsy.

This is a minor surgical procedure where a sample of affected lymph node tissue is removed and studied in a laboratory.

Read more about diagnosing Hodgkin lymphoma.

Treatment and outlook

Hodgkin lymphoma is a relatively aggressive cancer and can quickly spread through the body. Despite this, it's also one of the most easily treated types of cancer.

Your recommended treatment plan will depend on your general health and age, because many of the treatments can put a tremendous strain on the body. How far the cancer has spread is also an important factor in determining the best treatment.

The main treatments used are chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy alone. Surgery isn't generally used as a treatment for the condition.

Overall, around 85% of people with Hodgkin lymphoma live at least five years and most of these will be cured. However, there's a risk of long-term problems after treatment, including infertility and an increased risk of developing another type of cancer in the future.

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Page last reviewed: 15/10/2015

Next review due: 15/10/2017