The Basics of Hodgkin's Disease
Learn about Hodgkin's disease, its symptoms and risk factors.

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Picture of young woman The Basics of Hodgkin's Disease

Hodgkin's disease is a kind of lymphoma - a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system, which helps the body fight infections and diseases. Lymphatic organs include the spleen, thymus, tonsils, lymph vessels, and lymph nodes. When the cells of the lymphatic system grow uncontrolled, it's called lymphoma. Hodgkin's disease is also called Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Lymph is a fluid that contains white blood cells. Lymph vessels transport it to lymph nodes and other organs of the lymph system. White blood cells are important for fighting infection. When Hodgkin's cancer invades the lymph system, it typically follows the pattern of lymph nodes in the body.

Hodgkin's disease can cause enlarged lymph nodes (lumps in the armpit, neck, and groin), fever, night sweats, and weight loss.

This disease can occur at any age but is most common in young adults (ages 15 to 35) and older adults (over age 50).

The abnormal cells linked to Hodgkin's are called Reed-Sternberg cells. Finding these abnormal cells is key to diagnosing the disease.

Who's at risk?
The exact causes of Hodgkin's disease are not known, but some things may raise the risk for getting the disease.

Scientists have found that Hodgkin's is associated with certain medical conditions as well as weakened immune systems. The strongest risk factors associated with Hodgkin's disease are:

  • Having a weakened immune system due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or medications to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ.
  • Having the Epstein-Barr virus. This is the virus that can cause infectious mononucleosis (mono).
  • Family history. Brothers and sisters of those who get Hodgkin's disease as young adults have a higher-than-average chance of developing the disease.
  • Age. Hodgkin's disease occurs most often in two groups: young adults (ages 15 to 40) and older adults (age 55 and older).
  • Gender. Hodgkin's disease affects slightly more men than women.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Hodgkin's disease are often vague and can be signs of many other illnesses. A doctor should be seen to determine the cause any of these symptoms:

  • Painless swelling in the neck, armpits, upper chest, and/or groin
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of fullness or abdominal pain
  • Night sweats (fever)
  • Itching
  • Unexplainable, significant loss of weight
  • Fever, often every 3 to 4 days, occasionally as high as 105 degrees F
By Geri K. Metzger, Staff Writer
Created on 02/11/2002
Updated on 08/29/2011
  • National Cancer Institute. Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • American Cancer Society. What is Hodgkin disease?
  • Lymphoma Research Foundation. Understanding Hodgkin's lymphoma. A guide for patients, survivors and loved ones.
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