Indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphocytes. There are two types of cancers that occur in the lymphatic system: Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are far more common than Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells made in the bone marrow and lymph nodes and are vital to the body’s immune system. The body contains two primary types of lymphocytes that can develop into lymphomas: T-cells and B-cells.
In non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the body produces abnormal lymphocytes that then multiply, divide, and overtake the lymph nodes (causing them to enlarge). Typically, this cancer originates in the lymph nodes but can spread to other parts of the lymphatic system, and occasionally organs outside of the lymphatic system. The word “indolent” indicates a slow-progressing disease. Indolent NHLs can transform into more aggressive forms. The two most common forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are follicular lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma occurs more frequently in men more than in women, and risk increases with age, particularly for people over the age of 60 years.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma may cause one or more of the following:
- Night sweats
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Unexplained weight loss
The exact underlying cause or causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are unknown. Potential risk factors are not always evident, but may include radiation exposure, exposure to certain chemicals, having certain viral and bacterial infections, or a weakened immune system (due to immune-suppressing drugs after an organ transplant, infection with HIV, or certain inherited syndromes). Treatment is based upon the presence or absence of symptoms, evidence of bone marrow dysfunction, and patients’ overall health and age.
Treatment options for NHL may include one or more of the following:
- Active surveillance
- Radiation therapy
- Stem cell transplant