What Is B-Cell Lymphoma?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on September 01, 2022
3 min read

If your doctor tells you that you have B-cell lymphoma, it means you have a cancer that forms in white blood cells called lymphocytes. There's a lot to take in at first, but your doctor can explain what you can do to treat the disease. Make sure you reach out to family and friends to get the emotional backing you need while you learn about how to manage your condition.

There are two main types of lymphocytes, but the kind that affects the way your disease develops are called B cells. These cells make antibodies -- proteins that help your body fight germs like bacteria and viruses.

Lymphocytes travel around your body through a network called the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes -- small glands in your neck, armpits, and groin -- are part of this system. Lymphoma grows in the lymph nodes or any other area of the body that has lymph tissue, including the spleen, bone marrow, thymus, adenoids, tonsils, and stomach.

When you have B-cell lymphoma, your body makes too many abnormal B cells. These cells can't fight infections well. They can also spread to other parts of your body.

There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Most B-cell lymphomas are non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

When your doctor talks to you about your B-cell lymphoma, they'll explain which type you have. The most common type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is called diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL).

Other types of B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:

  • Follicular lymphoma -- a slow-growing form that mainly affects older adults
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic leukemia (CLL/SLL) -- slow growing types that are closely related
  • Mantle cell lymphoma -- a fast-growing lymphoma
  • Marginal zone lymphoma -- a type that features small cells that grow slowly
  • Burkitt lymphoma -- a rare disease that grows quickly
  • Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma (Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia) -- a rare and slow-growing lymphoma
  • Primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma -- a rare type that mainly affects young adults, and is more common in women


Doctors don't know what causes most B-cell lymphomas. These cancers begin when lymphocytes start to grow out of control.

Usually, your body makes new lymphocytes only when you need them to replace old cells that have died. In B-cell lymphoma, lymphocytes grow when you don't need them. And they keep multiplying.

You're more likely to get B-cell lymphoma if you have a weakened immune system -- the body’s defense against germs.

Your chances of getting B-cell lymphoma may also be higher if you:

  • Are age 60 or older
  • Are male
  • Take medicines that weaken your immune system (immunosuppressants) after an organ transplant or to treat an autoimmune disease
  • Have been infected with HIV, the Epstein-Barr virus, or other germs that raise your chances of getting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Had contact with large amounts of chemicals used to kill bugs and weeds
  • Have an inherited condition that affects the immune system

Keep in mind that most people who get B-cell lymphoma don't have these risks. And most people who do have these risks will never get this cancer.

As abnormal B cells multiply, they can cause areas that have lymph tissue to get bigger. Sometimes you can feel these enlarged lymph nodes. 

B-cell lymphoma also causes symptoms like these:

  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or swelling in your belly
  • Severe itching