Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer which develops in the lymphatic system, an important part of the immune system.

Last modified: December 21, 2021

Quick facts about lymphomaQuick facts

  • Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer which develops in a type of white blood cell known as a lymphocyte
  • Despite its name, lymphoma may also develop in areas other than lymph nodes
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer in Australia, accounting for approximately 90% of lymphoma cases

Types of lymphomaTypes of lymphoma

There are two different types of lymphoma:

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is caused by changes to B-cell and T-cell lymphocytes and is the most common type of blood cancer.  There are many different subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma which are divided into ‘B-cell’ or ‘T-cell’ lymphomas. These abnormal cells eventually become tumours that commonly form in the lymph nodes. 

Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)

Hodgkin lymphoma is a rarer type of lymphoma, accounting for less than 1% of lymphoma cases in Australia. Unlike non-Hodgkin lymphoma, abnormal B-cell lymphocytes known as Reed-Sternberg cells are present in Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer is usually found at an early stage and typically spreads through the lymph nodes.

Signs and symptoms of lymphomaSigns and symptoms

As signs and symptoms for lymphoma can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive a lymphoma diagnosis.

Symptoms may include:

  • Night sweats


  • Tiredness

  • Itchy skin

  • Loss of weight and appetite

  • Swollen, painless lymph nodes under the arms, neck or groin

  • Fever

  • Pain in the chest, coughing and/or trouble breathing

  • Chronic infection

  • Enlarged stomach due to swollen lymph nodes or spleen

Stages of lymphoma cancerStages

The most common system used to stage lymphoma is the Ann Arbour staging system, which helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like.

This staging system uses information such as the number of lymph node groups affected to determine the stage of your lymphoma using the guidelines below:

Stage I

Cancer cells have been found in only one group of lymph nodes

Stage II

Two or more lymph node groups have been affected which are localised to either the top or bottom half of the body

Stage III

Two or more lymph node groups have been affected in both sides of the body

Stage IV

Lymph node groups are affected as well as one or more organs, such as your bone marrow or liver

Treatment for lymphoma

There are many different types of treatment for lymphoma. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Frequently asked questions about lymphomaFAQs

Is lymphoma hereditary?

Research has found that having a family history of lymphoma can increase your risk of developing both non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma.

However, gene mutations that result in lymphoma are typically acquired (mutations that happen over the course of a person’s lifetime) rather than passed down through your family (inherited).

What are the risk factors for lymphoma?

Risk factors of lymphoma can vary for each type of lymphoma. They may include: 

Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Age – Being young (in your 20s) and being over the age of 55 can increase your risk of Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Gender – Males have a slightly increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma compared to females
  • Medical history – Having the virus which causes AIDS (HIV) or glandular fever (Epstein-Barr virus) can increase your risk of Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Family history – Having a family history of Hodgkin lymphoma (such as a mother, father or sibling) can increase your own risk

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Age – Being older (over 60 years of age) can increase your risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Gender – Males have a greater risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, although there are some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma which are more common in females
  • Diet – High intakes of fat and meat in the diet can increase your risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Exposure – Exposure to chemicals such as herbicides or pesticides and benzene can put you at greater risk of developing lymphoma
  • Medical history – Having autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or some viruses such as HIV, Epstein-Barr virus or the HTLV-1 virus (Human T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma virus) are linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma
What causes lymphoma?

The cause of lymphoma is not fully known, however there are some factors which contribute to the risk of lymphoma developing, including: 

  • Exposure to radiation and certain chemicals
  • Contracting the Epstein-Barr virus or HIV
How common is lymphoma?

Over the past 20 years there has been a steady increase in the number of lymphoma cases diagnosed. It is estimated that in 2021, 7,207 Australians will be diagnosed with lymphoma, with more men than women diagnosed. 

Are there clinical trials available for lymphoma that I can participate in?

Icon offers clinical trials across a wide range of cancer types and treatments. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor who will be able to find a trial that might be right for you and your cancer. 

See current clinical trials delivered by Icon Cancer Centre.


For a full list of references, click here.
  1.  Cancer Council. (2019). Types of cancer: Lymphoma. Retrieved on 21 December 2021 from
  2. Cancer Council. (May 2019). Types of cancer: Hodgkin Lymphoma. Retrieved on 3rd April 2019 from
  3. American Cancer Society. (2018). What is Hodgkin Lymphoma? Retrieved on 3rd April 2019 from
  4. American Cancer Society. (n.d). Lymphoma. Retrieved on the 10th April 2019 from
  5. Cancer Council. (November 2019). Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Retrieved on 10th April 2019 from
  6. Cancer Research UK. (17 November 2020). What is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? Retrieved on 21 December 2021 from
  7. Lymphoma Australia. (n.d). Staging of lymphoma. Retrieved on 21 December 2021 from
  8. American Cancer Society. (9 June 2020). What causes Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? Retrieved on 21 December 2021 from
  9. American Cancer Society. (1 May 2018). What causes Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Retrieved on 10th April 2019 from


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