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What Is a Malignant Lymphoma?

Swollen lymph nodes are one symptom of lymphoma.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 19 April 2014
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A malignant lymphoma is a cancerous condition. It develops in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system and can affect many different parts of the body. Lymphomas are typically divided into two different categories. Some are called Hodgkin’s lymphomas, which develop in B cells, or those that defend the body from infecting invaders. Others are considered non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and develop in the B cells or in the T cells, which also provide protection from viruses.

The lymphatic system consists of many ducts that have the job of transporting lymphocytes, infection-fighting cells, through a person’s body. The lymphocytes are transported in a fluid called lymph. Besides fighting infection, lymphocytes also attack pre-cancerous cells.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one type of malignant lymphoma. When a person has this type of lymphoma, his B cells experience abnormal growth that can even move to other parts of the body outside of the lymphatic system. As the cells multiply and form cancerous tumors, a person’s immune system suffers, and his body’s ability to fight infection is impaired.

Less common than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically strikes those who are between the ages of 15 and 40 as well as those over 55 years old. It causes such symptoms as unrelenting fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, sweating during the night, itching, and weight loss. It may also cause coughing, chest pain, and appetite loss. While this type of malignant lymphoma can be fatal, some people make a full recovery with treatment.

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Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also develops in a person’s lymphatic system, but is more common than the Hodgkin’s variety of the disease. This type of lymphoma may develop in either a person’s T cells or B cells. It can affect people in any age group, but it is most likely to develop in a person who is older than 60 years old. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops when lymphocytes fail to proceed through a normal life cycle and die off when they should; they continue the process of growing and dividing, forming tumors instead. As a result, a person’s lymph nodes swell and symptoms similar to those of Hodgkin’s disease develop.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically progresses very slowly, and doctors may recommend delaying treatment until symptoms make it necessary. This decision depends on a number of factors, however, including the overall state of the patient’s health and his age. Unfortunately, this type of malignant lymphoma may return, even after a person has been successfully treated.

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