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Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are an important part of your immune system. Lymphoma is also called a cancer of the lymphatic system, or lymphatic cancer.

In lymphoma, something goes wrong with the development of your lymphocytes. The lymphocytes don’t work properly and can multiply out of control.

There are two main types of lymphoma – Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both types affect your lymphocytes.

Over 14,000 people are diagnosed with lymphoma each year in the UK, making it the fifth most common cancer and the most common blood cancer.

In most cases we don’t know what causes lymphoma, but there are some things which can make the risk of developing the disease slightly higher:

  • age
  • sex
  • family history
  • lowered immunity
  • infections.

A common symptom of lymphoma is lumps. These are swollen lymph nodes (glands). You may get painless swellings in your neck, collarbone, armpit, groin or other parts of your body.

Some swollen lymph nodes can press on organs and cause pain in your chest, coughing, breathlessness, or pain in your stomach area.

Other symptoms include:

  • fever (high temperature)
  • weight loss that is unexplained
  • night sweats that soak your clothes and bedding.

We have more detailed information about lymphoma symptoms in general, and for specific types of lymphoma – see Lymphoma types below.

There are different types of lymphoma depending on how the cells are affected and how the cancer behaves. We have more detailed information on different types of lymphoma:

Fast-growing non-Hodgkin lymphomas:

Slow-growing non-Hodgkin lymphomas:

If your doctor suspects you have lymphoma, they'll run a series of tests to help them diagnose you. These include blood tests, lymph node biopsies, scans, and general health and infection screening.

If you've just been told you have lymphoma

Order our free booklet 'Your blood cancer diagnosis - what happens now?'. It tells you the key things to know about blood cancer, including tips from other people who've been diagnosed.

Lymphoma treatment

The treatments you have will depend on the type of lymphoma you have, how far it has spread (its stage) and whether you have symptoms. Common lymphoma treatments include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • targeted therapies.

If you have a slow-growing lymphoma, you may not need treatment straight away, and some people never need it. This is called being on watch and wait.

Lymphoma treatments can have side effects. Some people experience some of these effects as a result of the cancer itself, even if they aren't having treatment.

Some people will want to know how lymphoma will affect their future – this is known as your prognosis.

Your prognosis is individual to you and depends the type of lymphoma you have, what treatments you can have, and other things like your general fitness.

Ask your medical team about your prognosis if you want to know, because everyone is different. Your medical team know you and your individual situation.

Remember, your prognosis can also change over time, for example if you respond well to a treatment. Read our general information about things that might affect your prognosis.

You might find it difficult understanding or thinking about prognosis. Our Support Service is here to talk you through it, offer support, or simply listen.

Clinical trials are how we find new treatments and improve current ones. We can help you find out about clinical trials for lymphoma. Even if you just want to know a bit more about lymphoma research, try our Clinical Trials Support Service.

Our previous research into lymphoma has focused on improving treatments. Read about our research impact on lymphoma.

We have information about coping with lymphoma written for teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 25.

It's a guide to treatment, side effects, your emotions, friendships and working or studying with blood cancer. Watch young people share their experiences and tips on how to get through it. And find out what you need to know about being young and having blood cancer.

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