What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is the general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. Lymphoma originates in developing B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, which have undergone a malignant (cancerous) change. This means that they multiply without any proper order forming tumours, which are collections of cancer cells. These tumours cause swelling in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Over time, malignant lymphocytes (called lymphoma cells) crowd out normal lymphocytes and eventually the immune system becomes weakened and can no longer function properly.

The World Health Organisation currently recognises over 70 different subtypes of lymphoma with five of these sub-types belonging to a group of diseases called Hodgkin lymphoma. All other sub-types are commonly grouped together and called Non-Hodgkin lymphomas (or B- and T-cell lymphomas).

Each year in New Zealand over 1000 people are diagnosed with lymphoma, making it the sixth most common type of cancer. The majority of these people have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which represents more than 85% of all cases.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is seen in all age groups, but is more common in people over the age of 50. In children, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukaemia (bone marrow cancer) are the most common types of cancer seen, but few children overall are ever diagnosed with these diseases. Lymphomas in children tend to grow quickly and they are often curable.

Significant advances are continually being made in the way we manage lymphomas. This means that with treatment, many people can now be cured. Many others who are treated remain disease-free and well for a long time.


Treatment for lymphoma may involve one or a combination of the following

  • Watch & wait
  • Corticosteroids
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant

Click here for more information on treatments.


25-year-old Mellisa Chesterman from Tokoroa was mid-way through her post-graduate diploma in teaching at Waikato University when she noticed she was having difficulty walking up stairs and felt an eve...

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