If you have lymphoma, it means your body is making too many lymphocytes, which is a type of white blood cell. Your lymphocytes also live longer than they should. This overload compromises your immune system and stops other cells in your blood from doing their job. There are two types of lymphocytes, B cells and T cells. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma can develop from T cells, but a B cell origin is more common.
Lymphomas are grouped into stages based on how far they have spread in the body. This enables doctors to give the most effective treatment, because lymphomas of different stages will respond differently. In general, staging is applied to all types of lymphoma; however different systems are used for skin lymphomas and non-Hodgkin lymphomas in children.
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 Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Lymphoma Action has more information about the different types of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma on their website.
Name: Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Cell type: Lymphocytes, white blood cells that fight infections
Frequency: 13,000 / year in the UK
UK transplants: 781 in 2016
Risk: More common in elderly people – 50% of cases are in people over 70
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a stem cell transplant
Other info: Classified into ‘high’ and ‘low’ grades based on how quickly they develop
Doctors will normally only offer you a transplant if you’ve had other treatment 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 allograft transplant – when stem cells are donated by someone else.
Your medical team may consider offering you an allograft transplant straight away if:
‘I’m not quite where I was and I probably never will be; my body feels different now. It’s what they call the “new normal”: it feels different, responds differently. But I’ve got used to it and it’s great. Once I started feeling better, I thought about all the things I wanted to do. With a transplant you have new hope.’
Renate, who received a stem cell transplant to treat her Burkitt's lymphoma (a very rare form of cancer) in 2012. Read her story here
Some of our transplant recipients have also been kind enough to share their experience of treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. You can read their stories here.