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What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is the general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of a vast network of vessels (similar to blood vessels) that branch out into all the tissues of the body. These vessels contain lymph, a colourless watery fluid that carries lymphocytes, which are specialised white blood cells that fight infection. There are two types of lymphocytes, B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes (also called B-cells and T-cells). These cells protect us by making antibodies and destroying harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses.

Lymphoma originates in developing B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, which have undergone a malignant change. This means that they multiply without any proper order, forming tumours which are collections of cancer cells. These tumours cause swelling in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Over time, malignant lymphocytes (called lymphoma cells) crowd out normal lymphocytes and eventually the immune system becomes weakened and can no longer function properly. Significant advances are continually being made in the way your lymphoma can be managed. This means that with treatment, many people can now be cured. Many others who are treated remain disease-free and well for a long time.

You may have heard about lymphoma in the news recently after actor Jeff Bridges announced he had been diagnosed.

Sub-types of lymphoma

There are more than 80 different sub-types of lymphoma currently recognised by the World Health Organisation’s classification system.

Five of these sub-types belong to a group of diseases called Hodgkin lymphoma. All other sub-types are commonly grouped together and called non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

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