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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Anthony Nolan Patient

What is 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.

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.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma facts

  • 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 634 stem cell transplants in the UK to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2021.

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.

Information published: 24/01/23
Next review due: 24/01/24   

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant

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