Hodgkin Lymphoma: The Basics

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed:

Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) is a cancer of the lymph nodes and lymphatic tissue. HL happens when infection-fighting cells in the lymph nodes begin to grow out of control. It affects the immune system and can be called a “blood cancer”.

There are two types of HL: classical and nodular lymphocyte-predominant. 

Risks

The cause of HL is not known, but there are some known risks:

  • Having had the Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Family history of HL.
  • Use of some pesticides and herbicides.
  • Immune system depression from organ/bone marrow transplant, inherited immune deficiencies, and infections, including HIV.

Screening

There are no screening tests for HL.

Signs of HL

The first sign of HL is often swelling of the lymph nodes. HL commonly affects the nodes in the neck, causing neck swelling. Other sites of swelling are underarm, upper chest, belly, and groin. Other signs of HL are:

  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Itchy Skin.

Diagnosis of HL

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have HL, they will do a health history and exam. A biopsy will be done of the swollen lymph node, removing some cells or the whole lymph node. 

Other tests that may be done to see the cancer are:

Staging HL

Staging for HL is done based on the Cotswold system, which ranges from stages I through IV. Stage I is the least involved and stage IV is the most involved. Stages I and II are divided into two groups: favorable and unfavorable. 

  • Stage I: One lymph node is involved.
  • Stage II: Two or more lymph node regions on the same side of the diaphragm, or one lymph node region plus a nearby area or organ. Called locally advanced disease. 
  • Stage III: Lymph nodes above and below the diaphragm are involved, or one node is and one organ on the opposite side of the diaphragm. Called advanced disease.
  • Stage IV: Spread outside the lymph nodes and spleen into one or more areas of the body including the bone, bone marrow, skin, and organs. Called widespread disease. 

Letters E, S, B, A and X can be added to each stage to represent the symptoms related to the diagnosis.

Treatment

HL treatment is chosen by the type of HL, the stage, and your health. Your plan may include more than one type of treatment. 

  • Chemotherapy is the use of medications to treat the cancer.
  • Radiation uses high energy rays (similar to x-rays) to kill cancer cells in a targeted, small area of the body.
  • Stem cell transplants use a patient’s own, or another person’s bone marrow or stem cells to help the patient recover after high doses of chemotherapy.

This article is a basic guide to HL. You can learn more about HL diagnosis and treatment by using the link below.

All About Hodgkin Lymphoma 

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