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Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 04/14/2014

Stages of Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma



After childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the lymph system or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the lymph system or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. Some of the tests that are used to diagnose childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma are also used to stage the disease. The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

  • Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

  • Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
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    Complete blood count (CBC); left panel shows blood being drawn from a vein on the inside of the elbow using a tube attached to a syringe; right panel shows a laboratory test tube with blood cells separated into layers: plasma, white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells.
    Complete blood count (CBC). Blood is collected by inserting a needle into a vein and allowing the blood to flow into a tube. The blood sample is sent to the laboratory and the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are counted. The CBC is used to test for, diagnose, and monitor many different conditions.

  • Blood chemistry studies : A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that makes it.

  • Chest x-ray : An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.

  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.

  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy : The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.

  • Lumbar puncture : A procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column. This is done by placing a needle into the spinal column. This procedure is also called an LP or spinal tap.
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    Lumbar puncture; drawing shows a patient lying in a curled position on a table and a spinal needle (a long, thin needle) being inserted into the lower back. Inset shows a close-up of the spinal needle inserted into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the lower part of the spinal column.
    Lumbar puncture. A patient lies in a curled position on a table. After a small area on the lower back is numbed, a spinal needle (a long, thin needle) is inserted into the lower part of the spinal column to remove cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, shown in blue). The fluid may be sent to a laboratory for testing.

  • Bone scan : A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).

  • Endoscopy : A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope is inserted through an incision (cut) in the skin or opening in the body, such as the mouth. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

The following stages are used for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

Stage I

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Stage I childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma; drawing shows cancer in one group of lymph nodes. An inset shows a lymph node with a lymph vessel, an artery, and a vein. Lymphoma cells containing cancer are shown in the lymph node.
Stage I childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer is found in one group of lymph nodes or one area outside the lymph nodes, but no cancer is found in the abdomen or mediastinum (area between the lungs).

In stage I childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cancer is found:

  • in one group of lymph nodes; or
  • in one area outside the lymph nodes.

No cancer is found in the abdomen or mediastinum (area between the lungs).

Stage II

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Stage II childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma; drawing shows cancer in lymph node groups above and below the diaphragm, in the liver, and in the appendix. The colon and small intestine are also shown.  An inset shows a lymph node with a lymph vessel, an artery, and a vein. Lymphoma cells containing cancer are shown in the lymph node.
Stage II childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer is found in one area outside the lymph nodes and in nearby lymph nodes (a); or in two or more areas above (b) or below (c) the diaphragm; or cancer started in the stomach, appendix, or intestines (d) and can be removed by surgery.

In stage II childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cancer is found:

  • in one area outside the lymph nodes and in nearby lymph nodes; or
  • in two or more areas above or below the diaphragm, and may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes; or
  • to have started in the stomach or intestines and can be completely removed by surgery. Cancer may or may not have spread to certain nearby lymph nodes.

Stage III

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Stage III childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma; drawing shows cancer in lymph node groups above and below the diaphragm, in the chest, and throughout the abdomen in the liver, spleen, small intestines, and appendix. The colon is also shown. An inset shows a lymph node with a lymph vessel, an artery, and a vein. Lymphoma cells containing cancer are shown in the lymph node.
Stage III childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer is found in at least one area above and below the diaphragm (a); or cancer started in the chest (b); or cancer started in the abdomen and spread throughout the abdomen (c); or in the area around the spine (not shown).

In stage III childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cancer is found:

  • in at least one area above the diaphragm and in at least one area below the diaphragm; or
  • to have started in the chest; or
  • to have started in the abdomen and spread throughout the abdomen, and cannot be completely removed by surgery; or
  • in the area around the spine.

Stage IV

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Stage IV childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma; drawing shows the brain, spinal cord, and cerebrospinal fluid in and around the brain and spinal cord. An inset shows cancer in the bone marrow.
Stage IV childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer is found in the bone marrow, brain, or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Cancer may also be found in other parts of the body.

In stage IV childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cancer is found in the bone marrow, brain, or cerebrospinal fluid. Cancer may also be found in other parts of the body.

Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma is also described as low-stage or high-stage.

Treatment for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma is based on whether the cancer is low-stage or high-stage. Low-stage lymphoma has not spread beyond the area in which it began. High-stage lymphoma has spread beyond the area in which it began. Stage I and stage II are usually considered low-stage. Stage III and stage IV are usually considered high-stage.