General Information About Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph system.
The lymph system is part of the immune system and is made up of the following:
- Lymph: Colorless, watery fluid that travels through the lymph system and carries white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes protect the body against infections and the growth of tumors.
- Lymph vessels: A network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream.
- Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells that help fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes grow along the network of lymph vessels found throughout the body. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen, and groin.
- Spleen: An organ that makes lymphocytes, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells. The spleen is on the left side of the abdomen near the stomach.
- Thymus: An organ in which lymphocytes grow and multiply. The thymus is in the chest behind the breastbone.
- Tonsils: Two small masses of lymph tissue at the back of the throat. The tonsils make lymphocytes.
- Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue in the center of large bones. Bone marrow makes white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Anatomy of the lymph system, showing the lymph vessels and lymph organs including lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow. Lymph (clear fluid) and lymphocytes travel through the lymph vessels and into the lymph nodes where the lymphocytes destroy harmful substances. The lymph enters the blood through a large vein near the heart.
Because lymph tissue is found throughout the body, childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma can begin in almost any part of the body. Cancer can spread to the liver and many other organs and tissues.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur in both adults and children. Treatment for children is different than treatment for adults. (See the PDQ summary on Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
There are four major types of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The specific type of lymphoma is determined by how the cells look under a microscope. The 4 major types of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma are:
- B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (Burkitt and Burkitt-like lymphoma) and Burkitt leukemia.
- Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
- Lymphoblastic lymphoma.
- Anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
There are other types of lymphoma that occur in children. These include the following:
- Lymphoproliferative disease associated with a weakened immune system.
- Rare non-Hodgkin lymphomas that are more common in adults than in children.
Possible signs of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma include breathing problems and swollen lymph nodes.
These and other symptoms may be caused by childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
- Shortness of breath.
- Trouble breathing.
- High-pitched breathing sounds.
- Swelling of the head or neck.
- Trouble swallowing.
- Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin.
- Fever for no known reason.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
- Night sweats.