Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) 

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a type of lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphoid tissue. Lymphoid tissue is part of the lymph system. A major component of the immune system, the lymph system consists of organs, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels. The lymphatic system manufactures and transports lymph, which is composed of plasma (the fluid part of the blood), red blood cells and white blood cells from tissues to the bloodstream. 

Although non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can start anywhere, it generally develops in the lymph nodes. In some cases, the disease can develop in patches of lymphatic tissue in organs such as the spleen, stomach or intestines. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs located in groups in various areas of the body, including the neck, armpit, chest and groin. They are connected by lymph vessels which carry the lymph fluid.

The function of the lymph nodes includes producing immune cells (e.g., lymphocytes and plasma cells), and filtering bacteria, cancer cells and other foreign material from lymph. When the lymph nodes recognize bacteria in the lymph fluid, they respond by enlarging and producing additional white blood cells, including lymphocytes, to help combat infection. 

In patients with lymphoma, lymphocytes begin to grow abnormally. The two types of lymphocytes are:

» B lymphocytes (B-cells). B-cells defend the body from bacteria and other invading threats by changing into plasma cells, which produce antibodies. The antibodies then mark the antigens or these threats for destruction.

» T lymphocytes (T-cells). T-cells destroy germ and infected cells and cancer cells directly.

As the cells continue to grow and expand, the lymph glands or other organs in which the lymphocytes grow begin to enlarge. The cells form lumps in the body. Organ function may also become affected, as the lymphocyte masses grow larger, making it more difficult for normal cells to function.

NHL occurs in approximately 1 child in every 10,000 anywhere from infancy to adolescence with the peak incidence usually between the ages of 7-11.

The cause of NHL is unknown.

Chemotherapy with combinations of drugs is the usual treatment. Sometimes surgery or radiation therapy is needed to treat the disease.

Each year in Ontario approximately 30 children are diagnosed with NHL, while each year in Canada approximately 80 children are diagnosed.

Approximately 15-20% of children with NHL in Canada will die each year of their disease.

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