Hodgkin’s lymphoma — formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease — is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. It may affect people of any age, but is most common in people between 20 and 40 years old and those over 55.

In Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread beyond it.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system. The other type, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is far more common.

Advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma have helped give people with this disease the chance for a full recovery. The prognosis continues to improve for people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma may include:

  • Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Severe itching
  • Increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol or pain in your lymph nodes after drinking alcohol

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

Causes

Doctors aren’t sure what causes Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But it begins when an infection-fighting cell called a lymphocyte develops a genetic mutation. The mutation tells the cell to multiply rapidly, causing many diseased cells that continue multiplying.

The mutation causes a large number of oversized, abnormal lymphocytes to accumulate in the lymphatic system, where they crowd out healthy cells and cause the signs and symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Various types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma exist. Your diagnosis is based on the types of cells involved in your disease and their behavior. The type of lymphoma you are diagnosed with determines your treatment options.

Classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the more common type of this disease. People diagnosed with this disease have large, abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells in their lymph nodes.

Subtypes of classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:

  • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma

This much rarer type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma involves large, abnormal cells that are sometimes called popcorn cells because of their appearance. Treatment may be different from the classical type. People with this type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma may have a better chance of a cure when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:

  • Your age. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most often diagnosed in people between 15 and 30 years old and those over 55.
  • A family history of lymphoma. Having a blood relative with Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma increases your risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • Being male. Males are slightly more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma than are females.
  • Past Epstein-Barr infection. People who have had illnesses caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, such as infectious mononucleosis, are more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma than are people who haven’t had Epstein-Barr infections.