Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Patient Education

Cancer Facts

According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in the United States.
  • The incidence of NHL increases with age.
  • An estimated 474,880 people were living with (or in remission from) NHL in 2010.
  • More males than females tend to be diagnosed with NHL.
  • NHL is more common in African Americans from their mid-to late teens to mid-50s than in whites. The disease is more common in whites beginning at age 55.


The lymphomas are really a mix of lots of different types of disorders. There are two broad categories: The Hodgkin lymphomas — which are a small subset, maybe five to ten percent of total lymphomas, and the non-Hodgkin lymphomas — which are a mix of lots of different types. You can divide the non-Hodgkin lymphomas into two different types: those that are aggressive and those that are indolent, or slow growing.

Mark H. Holguin, MD, Hematology/Oncology; Chief – Section of Hematology

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer of the lymph system, which includes:

  • Lymph nodes
  • Spleen
  • Other organs of the immune system

White blood cells called lymphocytes are found in lymph tissue. They help prevent infections. In most cases, lymphomas begin in a type of white blood cells called B-lymphocytes, or B-cells.

Two Types of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

NHL is a general term for a varied group of blood cancers that develop similarly. In general, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is classified by how fast the cancer spreads.

Indolent (Low Grade)

  • Slow growing
  • About 35 percent of NHL cases
  • Some people live many years with indolent NHL
  • Often returns after initial treatment

Aggressive (High Grade)

  • Fast growing
  • About 65 percent of NHL cases
  • Require aggressive treatments
  • In many cases are curable

There are about 35 different subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These NHL subtypes have distinct characteristics and can require different treatments.

With tissue samples procured during biopsy, your hepatopathology team can determine which subtype of NHL you have. Your physician will then discuss treatment options with you.

On a more personal note, my philosophy about seeing patients stems from some of my own experiences. I've had cancer before. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and got to experience chemotherapy and radiation treatment and all that goes with it. Fortunately, I am free of disease. My philosophy is that I like to treat people in the same way I wanted to be treated when I was a patient. That includes an explanation about what’s happening, what is the disease, what are the chances we can fix it, what the treatment is going to be like. And from my perspective from having gone through it previously, I can explain what patients can expect from the side effects of the treatment, as well as some of the emotional aspects of what you go through dealing with the diagnosis.

Mark H. Holguin, MD, Hematology/Oncology; Chief – Section of Hematology

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