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Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system. Cancers occur when a cell or group of cells go out of control and keep dividing to make more and more similar cells. These are not helpful to the body. The aim of treatments for cancer is to kill the "out of control" cells, but most treatments that kill cancer cells will also kill or damage normal cells. So there is always a balance between killing cancer cells and making sure that normal cells can recover well afterwards.
The lymphatics are a system of fine tubes that drain the fluid called lymph. This bathes all the cells in the organs and tissues of the body and returns waste products to the blood circulation. Lymph vessels are interrupted by lymph nodes or glands which are small bean-shaped structures that are part of the immune system, the body's defense against infection.
Cells called lymphocytes are found in the lymph nodes. There are many kinds of lymphocytes. Some can make antibodies to fight infections and others kill invading organisms such as bacteria and viruses or kill infected cells.
Lymphocytes travel around the body in the lymph and blood. In healthy adults, lymph nodes can't be seen or felt but when you have an infection the lymph nodes draining the infected area can become enlarged. This is because the lymphocytes multiplied to overcome the infection. When you have for instance a sore throat, it is quite common to feel enlarged nodes or swollen glands under the jaw.
Lymph nodes are complicated structures and there are many different types of lymphocytes within one lymph node. Any of these can go wrong and give rise to a lymphoma. Consequently there are many different types of lymphoma. Also lymphomas can arise in lymph nodes or in some other tissues and organs. So there are many possible locations for lymphoma.
About a quarter of all lymphomas are referred to as Hodgkin lymphoma which is named after Dr Thomas Hodgkin from Guy's Hospital in London who first described the disease in 1832. All other lymphomas are called non-hodgkins lymphomas.
Hodgkin lymphoma can occur at any age but is most common in young people in their twenties. Apart from this peak in occurence in young adults the incidents of Hodgkin lymphoma generally increases with age. So it is also more common in people over 50. Although Hodgkin lymphoma is a rare tumour overall it is one of the most common forms of cancer in people under 30.
All other lymphomas are called non-hodgkins lymphoma. There are a lot of different types of non-hodgkin lymphoma. Non-hodgkin lymphoma can occur at any age but the incidence increases with age. So most patients with NHL are over 50.
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