General Information About Childhood Hodgkin Lymphoma
Key Points for This Section
- Childhood Hodgkin lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph system.
- There are two types of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Epstein-Barr virus infection can affect the risk of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Possible signs of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.
- Tests that examine the lymph system are used to detect (find) and diagnose childhood Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
- Lymph: Colorless, watery fluid that travels through the lymph system and carries white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes protect the body against infections and the growth of tumors.
- Lymph vessels: A network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream.
- Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells that help fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes are located along the network of lymph vessels found throughout the body. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen, and groin.
- Spleen: An organ that makes lymphocytes, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells. The spleen is on the left side of the abdomen near the stomach.
- Thymus: An organ in which lymphocytes grow and multiply. The thymus is in the chest behind the breastbone.
- Tonsils: Two small masses of lymph tissue at the back of the throat. The tonsils make lymphocytes.
- Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue in the center of large bones. Bone marrow makes white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Because lymph tissue is found throughout the body, Hodgkin lymphoma can start in almost any part of the body and spread to almost any tissue or organ in the body.
Hodgkin lymphoma often occurs in teenagers (age 15–19). The treatment for children and teenagers may be different than treatment for adults. (See the PDQ summary on Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information.)
The two types of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma are:
Classical Hodgkin lymphoma is divided into four subtypes, based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope:
- Lymphocyte-rich classical Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin lymphoma.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child’s doctor if you think your child may be at risk. Risk factors for childhood Hodgkin lymphoma include the following:
- Being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus.
- Being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Having certain inherited diseases of the immune system.
- Having a personal history of mononucleosis ("mono").
Being exposed to common infections before the age of 5 may decrease the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma in children because of the effect it has on the immune system.
- Painless, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, chest, underarm, or groin.
- Fever for no known reason.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
- Night sweats.
- Itchy skin.
- Pain in the lymph nodes after drinking alcohol.
Fever, weight loss, and night sweats are called B symptoms.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- 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.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis, 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.
- PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
- 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.
- Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
- The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
- The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
- The portion of the blood sample made up of red blood cells.
- 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.
- Sedimentation rate : A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the rate at which the red blood cells settle to the bottom of the test tube.
- Lymph node biopsy : The removal of all or part of a lymph node. The lymph node may be removed during a thoracoscopy, mediastinoscopy, or laparoscopy. One of the following types of biopsies may be done:
- Excisional biopsy : The removal of an entire lymph node.
- Incisional biopsy : The removal of part of a lymph node.
- Core biopsy : The removal of tissue from a lymph node using a wide needle.
- Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy : The removal of tissue from a lymph node using a thin needle.
The following test may be done on tissue that was removed:
- Immunophenotyping : A test in which the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are looked at under a microscope to find out what type of malignant (cancerous) lymphocytes are causing the lymphoma.
- The stage of the cancer.
- The size of the tumor.
- The type of Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Whether there are B symptoms at diagnosis.
- Certain features of the cancer cells.
- Whether there are too many white blood cells or too few red blood cells at diagnosis.
- How well the tumor responds to initial treatment with chemotherapy.
- Whether the cancer is newly diagnosed or has recurred (come back).
The treatment options also depend on:
- The child's age and gender.
- The risk of long-term side effects.
Most children and teenagers with newly diagnosed Hodgkin lymphoma can be cured.