Hodgkin’s lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease is a form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The cancer originates in the lymphocytes, which are white blood cells. The disease was so named after Thomas Hodgkin, who first described the condition in 1832.
In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a certain type of lymphocyte called the B-lymphocyte starts to multiply abnormally and accumulate in the lymph nodes. Affected lymphocytes are no longer able to fight infection, which makes the patient susceptible to infection.
The most common symptom of this condition is swelling in the areas of the body where lymph nodes are present, such as the neck, groin or armpit. Some more general symptoms can also manifest and examples include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Persistent fatigue
- Coughing and breathlessness
- Itchy skin
Although Hodgkin’s lymphoma can develop at any age, it tends to affect two age groups in particular, which are those aged between 15 and 35 years and those older than 55 years. The condition is slightly more common among men than women.
Diagnosis and management
A diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is confirmed based on microscopic examination of a lymph node biopsy. Blood tests are also taken to check organ function and assess the patient’s suitability for chemotherapy.
Despite being an aggressive form of cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the more easily treated cancers. The main treatment approaches are chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. The treatment choice depends on how far the cancer has spread in the body. Overall, the five-year survival rate among people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 80% and most of these people will be cured of the condition. However, the treatment can cause long-term complications such as infertility and patients are also at an increased risk of developing another form of cancer in the future.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc