Did you ever touch your neck and feel a bump on one or both sides? Usually, it's just a swollen gland or lymph node that's caused by a cold or other infection. But occasionally, swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of cancer, perhaps a cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma.
These are your lymph nodes. You'll find them not only on your neck, but in your armpits and groin too. They're a part of your body's normal defense system, which protects you against invading viruses and bacteria. Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts inside the lymph nodes. What causes Hodgkin lymphoma isn't known, but having the Epstein-Barr virus or HIV may increase your risk.
So, what are the signs of Hodgkin lymphoma?
In addition to having swollen lymph nodes, you may feel tired and have no appetite. Some people wake up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat. That's called night sweats. Remember, though, that these symptoms can occur with many different conditions. So if you have them, don't panic. But do see your doctor, who can tell you for sure what's causing your symptoms.
If your doctor suspects that you have Hodgkin lymphoma, your doctor will probably cut and remove a small piece of tissue from your lymph node, called a biopsy, and the samples will be sent to a lab to look for cancer cells. If cancer is diagnosed, other tests are used to stage it, in other words, to see whether the disease has spread, and if so, how far it's spread. That helps your doctor find the right treatment.
If you have Hodgkin lymphoma, most often the treatment involves radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both. People who don't respond to these treatments sometimes need a bone marrow transplant.
While you're being treated for Hodgkin lymphoma, you may need other therapies to help you feel better. That might include antibiotics to fight an infection or a blood transfusion to add red blood cells when they're low.
Getting diagnosed with any type of cancer can be difficult to hear. But you should know that Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most curable types of cancer. Even if the disease has spread, your chances of survival are very high. You can improve your odds by following the entire treatment plan. Once your lymphoma has been treated, you'll need to see your doctor regularly for check-ups to make sure the cancer hasn't returned, and to monitor for any side effects your treatment may have caused.
Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.