Lymphoma: Top 5 Questions and Answers You Need to Know

November 6, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Andre Henri Goy, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cancer Care, Men's Health, Women's Health.

On October 20, 2020, Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges shared his cancer diagnosis on social media, raising awareness about lymphoma, which is the most common blood cancer diagnosis in the U.S. As a result, many people have questions about what lymphoma is and what type of treatment Bridges may receive.

Andre Goy, M.D., M.S., an internationally renowned clinician and researcher of all types of lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and HIV-associated lymphoma, shared answers to five of the most common questions about lymphoma.

Q: What is lymphoma?

A: Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer, with more than 75,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. Lymphoma starts in the cells of the immune system, and can affect the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland or bone marrow as well as several organs in the body, where the immune system circulates.

There are more than 100 different subtypes of lymphoma, that are classified by the characteristics of the cells and other distinct differences / behaviors.

Q: How “bad” is lymphoma cancer?

A: Lymphoma can present in many different ways. Each person is unique and responds to various treatments differently. The good news is, there are more treatments and therapies available now than ever before, giving more people a chance at a positive outcome.

Q: What is the main cause of lymphoma?

A: Your body makes billions of new cells every day. During that process there can be some “errors” called mutations.

At times, those mutations can overwhelm our bodies’ natural response system or create cells that are stronger than our bodies’ ability to respond.

When those mutations begin to pile up they can become cancer cells which vary greatly from individual to individual.

Researchers aren’t precisely sure what causes the processes in the body that leads to lymphoma, but some risk factors include:

  • Age – Lymphoma can occur at any age. However, some types of lymphoma are more common in younger people, while others more commonly occur in older people. Overall, cancers are more frequent with age – as the process to accumulate enough mutations as mentioned above can take years.
  • Gender – Men are slightly more likely to develop lymphoma overall, but certain types are more common in women. The mechanisms by which some cancers are more frequent in men vs. women, are not fully understood.
  • Immune system problems – Either weakening of the immune function — whether due to aging, immunosuppressant medications, or overactivity from chronic infection or autoimmune diseases — can increase the risk of developing lymphoma.
  • Family history – Having a family history of lymphoma may put siblings at higher risk of developing lymphoma as well.

Q: What are the warning signs of lymphoma?

A: One of the most common warning signs of lymphoma is swelling of the lymph nodes (also known as lymph glands). These small, oval-shaped organs often swell in your head and neck region, or in your armpits or groin. Other early symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Persistent fatigue

Q: What are the treatment options for lymphoma?

A: There are many effective lymphoma treatments, including:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • bone marrow transplant
  • immunotherapy
  • stem cell transplant
  • chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy

The treatments that are used depend on the subtype and stage of the cancer and the patient’s response to any previous treatments.

Next Steps & Resources

  • Meet our clinical contributor: Andre Goy, M.D., M.S., is the physician-in-chief at Hackensack Meridian Health Oncology Care and chairman & chief physician officer at Hackensack University Medical Center John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC). He also serves as chief of the Division of Lymphoma at JTCC, New Jersey’s largest program for lymphoma treatment and research, and is internationally known for his expertise in lymphoma.
  • To make an appointment with Dr. Goy, or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
  • Learn more about lymphoma care at John Theurer Cancer Center.
  • To make an appointment with one of our multiple myeloma experts, call 551-996-5855.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.