Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of blood cancer where your body makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). Your lymphocytes also live longer than they should.

What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Too many lymphocytes means your immune system can’t work properly. It also stops your other blood cells from doing their job.

There are two types of lymphocytes, B cells and T cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can develop from T cells, but it developing from B cells is more common.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma refers to any lymphoma that doesn’t have abnormal cells called ‘Reed-Sternberg cells’. These distinct, large cells are only seen in blood samples of patients with Hodgkin lymphoma.

You can find out more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, on the Lymphoma Action and Blood Cancer UK websites.

Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia (WM) is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. You can find out more about it, and the support available for people with WM, on the WMUK website.

Facts about non-Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Over 13,000 people are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma each year in the UK.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people aged over 75.
  • There were 657 stem cell transplants in the UK to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2022.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and stem cell transplants

You will normally only be offered a stem cell transplant if you’ve had other treatment first and the lymphoma has come back.

You’re more likely to have an autologous transplant – when doctors use your own stem cells. This provides the best chance of keeping your lymphoma in remission for longer, and causes fewer complications because a stem cell donor isn’t needed.

You may then have a second transplant if you relapse. This will be an allogeneic transplant – when stem cells are donated by someone else.

Your medical team may consider offering you an allogeneic transplant straight away if:

  • you’ve already had treatment but it didn’t work
  • your lymphoma has returned quickly
  • you have a type of lymphoma that doctors feel isn’t likely to respond well to normal chemotherapy.

The doctors told me I could have treatment to reduce the non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Unfortunately after each treatment the cancer came back more aggressively. That’s when they said I needed a stem cell transplant.

Donna, who received a stem cell transplant to treat her non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2016. You can read her story on our blog.

Last updated: 04/04/2024

Next review due: 04/04/2025