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Hodgkin Lymphoma

Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL)

  • Is a cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body's immune system
  • Is one of the most curable forms of cancer
  • Is named for Dr. Thomas Hodgkin who, in 1832, described several cases of people with symptoms of a cancer involving the lymph nodes. The disease was called "Hodgkin's disease" until it was officially renamed "Hodgkin lymphoma" in the late 20th century.

Click here to access Hodgkin lymphoma statistics.

What You Should Know

  • Hodgkin lymphoma results from a change to the DNA of a lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell.
  • Hematologists and oncologists are specialists who treat people who have Hodgkin lymphoma or other types of blood cancer.
  • Treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma includes chemotherapy and/or radiation, depending on individual patient factors.
  • Stem cell transplantation is also a treatment option, but it is not recommended for initial treatment. 

What You Should Do

  • Talk with your doctor about your diagnostic tests and what the results mean.
  • Be sure you know your Hodgkin lymphoma subtype because different subtypes have different treatments.

To download lists of suggested questions to ask your healthcare providers, click here.

How Does Hodgkin Lymphoma Develop?

Hodgkin lymphoma starts when an abnormal change to the DNA of a white blood cell (called a lymphocyte) causes it to become a lymphoma cell that, if untreated, results in the uncontrolled growth of cancerous lymphocytes.

  • These cancerous cells crowd out normal white cells, and the immune system can't guard against infection effectively.
  • Lymphoma cells grow and form masses, usually in the lymph nodes, located throughout our bodies in the lymphatic system.
  • Lymphoma cells can also gather in other areas of the body where lymphoid tissue is found.
  • Hodgkin lymphoma is distinguished from other types of lymphoma by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells (named for the scientists who first identified them). Other cells associated with the disease are called Hodgkin cells. Hodgkin cells are larger than normal lymphocytes but smaller than RS cells. These differences can be observed under a microscope and further identified by special pathology tests. This is important information that helps doctors determine a patient’s HL subtype.

Risk Factors

For most people who have Hodgkin lymphoma, the exact cause is not known, but the following risk factors may increase a person's likelihood of developing Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • Past Epstein-Barr virus infection: The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), known for causing mononucleosis, is associated with the development of some types of cancer, including HL. Infection with EBV in early childhood or having “mono” in the teenage years increases the risk of developing HL. But while many people are infected with EBV, very few actually develop HL.
  • Age: People can develop HL at any age, but it is most common in adolescents and young adults. Certain subtypes may peak again in older adults. 
  • Sex: HL is slightly more common in males. 
  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with HL may increase the risk of HL. 
  • Weakened immune system: People infected with HIV have an increased risk of developing HL. People who take medicines to suppress the immune system and people with autoimmune disease are also at a higher risk. 

You can not catch the disease from someone else.

Source: Hodgkin Lymphoma. Reviewed by Ann S. LaCasce, MD, MMSc and Sharon Castellino MD, MSc