What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a group of cancers that originate in cells of the immune system, called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma often begins in lymph nodes, but may be found in any organ. Common locations for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma are in the chest, abdomen, or next to the spine or brain.


Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can vary depending on the type of lymphoma and where in the body it is lymphoma is located. Symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • night sweats
  • weight loss
  • an enlarged lymph node or lump
  • cough or difficulty breathing, especially when lying flat
  • swelling of the abdomen, belly pain, decreased appetite or constipation
  • weakness of the legs or trouble walking
  • loss of control of bowel movements or urination


To diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the doctor will take a sample of tissues from the tumor (biopsy). Once non-Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed, the next step is to determine how much the disease has spread within the body. This is called “staging” of the lymphoma. Staging may involve one or more of the following tests:

  • radiology tests, such as PET, CT or MRI scans
  • lumbar puncture


Treatment for depends on the specific type of lymphoma your child has and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment to stop cancer cells from growing. It is the most common treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Targeted therapy includes antibodies, immune cell therapies and medications that target lymphoma cells directly or help the body’s immune system attack the cancer. Stem cell transplant may be an option when the non-Hodgkin lymphoma is resistant to initial treatment or when it recurs despite initial treatment.

Learn more about Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.

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