September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to improve support and advocate for people with blood cancer, including Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, is a type of blood cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Here are 6 common questions we get about Hodgkin lymphoma.
1. What is Hodgkin lymphoma?
Hodgkin lymphoma begins in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and nodes throughout the body.
It usually originates in a lymph node and can spread to other lymph tissues, including the spleen and bone marrow.
In some cases, it may even form a tumour in organs like the liver or lungs. This is also known as extranodal disease.
2. What types are there?
There are two main types of Hodgkin lymphoma: classical Hodgkin lymphoma and nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL).
These types differ in their appearance under a microscope and how they grow and spread in the body.
3. How common is it?
Each year in Australia, about 760 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Classical Hodgkin lymphoma most commonly develops in younger people aged 15–29 and older people aged over 60, but it can occur at any age. It is more common in men than women.
On the other hand, nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL), a rarer form, mostly affects children, or men in their 30s and 40s.
4. What are the symptoms?
Diagnosing Hodgkin lymphoma can be challenging as many people experience mild or few symptoms.
The most common sign is painless swelling in the neck, armpit, or groin caused by enlarged lymph nodes.
Additional symptoms, known as B symptoms, may include unexplained fever, excessive night sweats, and unintentional weight loss. Other possible indicators are fatigue, rash or itching, persistent cough, and shortness of breath.
While these symptoms can be caused by various conditions, it’s essential to consult a doctor if you experience unexplained symptoms.
5. What are the risk factors?
The causes of Hodgkin lymphoma are largely unknown, but the risk factors include:
Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes glandular fever or infectious mononucleosis) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) slightly increases the risk, although only a small number of cases are associated with these infections.
Having a parent, brother or sister (first-degree relative) who has had Hodgkin lymphoma slightly increases the risk of developing it. However, this family history link is uncommon.
Weakened immune system
A weakened immune system can increase risk due to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and coeliac disease, or if you need to take medicines that suppress the immune system after an organ transplant.
It’s important to note that many people with these risk factors do not develop Hodgkin lymphoma, and most cases occur without any known risk factors.
6. Which health professionals will I see?
If you have symptoms that raise concerns, start by visiting your general practitioner (GP). If these tests do not rule out cancer, you’ll usually be referred to a specialist, such as a haematologist. The specialist will arrange further tests to work out if you have Hodgkin lymphoma.
Understanding Hodgkin lymphoma can help you navigate your situation more effectively. For more information about how Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed and treated, see our newly updated booklet. You can download your free copy here or call 13 11 20. If you experience any symptoms or have concerns, reach out to your doctor for guidance.