what is hodgkin lymphoma (HL)

Hodgkin lymphoma is much more common than Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in young people.


Around 2,100 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma each year in the UK – more than five a day.  Hodgkin lymphoma can occur at any age, although most people diagnosed are between the ages of 15 and 34, or over 60.

Lymphoma is a blood cancer that forms tumours in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network all around your body an important part of your immune system aka your defence system, which is made up of lymphatic vessels and some of our organs.  Lymphoma occurs when white blood cells (infection fighting cells), called lymphocytes, grow out of control. The affected lymphocytes build up, forming lumps, which are commonly found in your neck, armpit and groin.  


types of hodgkin lymphoma (HL)

Hodgkin lymphoma develops when a lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell) becomes out of control. There are 2 types – B lymphocytes (B cells) and T lymphocytes (T cells). These abnormal cells are called Reed–Sternberg cells, named after the doctor who first recognised it. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma does not contain this type of cell.

It's important for doctors to be able to tell the difference between Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma as they are two different diseases and the treatment for them is not the same.

Lymphoma can cause many different symptoms, depending on which type of lymphoma it is and where it develops in the body - head to our signs & symptoms page to get clued up!

lymphoma staging 

The stages of lymphoma tell you about the number and places in the body that are affected by lymphoma. The stages are numbered 1 - 4 which can be simplified into early or advanced stage and knowing the stage helps your doctor to decide what treatment you need. Doctors look at whether the lymphoma is on one side, or both sides of the diaphragm. And whether it is inside or outside of the lymphatic system. They will measure the size of the lymphoma. They do this by carrying out various tests, such as a CT or PET scan. 


stage 1 

Only one group of lymph nodes affected anywhere in the body. Stage 1 means that there is lymphoma in only one group of lymph nodes (glands). These can be anywhere in the body, either above or below the diaphragm (the breathing sheet of muscle separating your chest from your tummy). Doctors use the diaphragm as a guide because it is about halfway down the body.

stage 1E

Stage 1E means that the lymphoma started in a single body organ outside the lymphatic system and is only in that organ. This is called extranodal lymphoma. ​Extranodal sites include the lungs, liver, bone marrow, kidneys, brain and spinal cord. Your doctor may use the letter E after the stage number if you have lymphoma outside of the lymphatic system.

Stage 2

Two or more groups of lymph nodes affected, all on the same side of the diaphragm (either above or below). Stage 2 means there is lymphoma in two or more groups of lymph nodes. These can be anywhere in the body, but they must all be on the same side of the diaphragm.

Stage 2E

Stage 2E means the lymphoma started in one body organ (not in the lymphatic system) and is also in one or more groups of lymph nodes - these must all be on the same side of the diaphragm.

Stage 3

This means that you have lymphoma on both sides of the diaphragm.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of lymphoma. Stage 4 means that lymphoma started in the lymph nodes and has spread to at least one body organ outside the lymphatic system for example, the lungs, liver, kidney bone marrow or bones.

b symptoms

Your doctor will add the letter B to your stage (for example, stage 1B) if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • unintentional weight loss

  • drenching night sweats

  • high temperatures that come and go, often at night


Bulky disease means you have a large lymph node that is 10cm or more

If you don't have any of these symptoms your doctor will add the letter A to your stage (for example, stage 2A). People with B symptoms may need more treatment than those without them.

Hodgkin lymphoma that comes back

Hodgkin lymphoma that has come back after it has been treated is called recurrent disease.

Your doctors will not stage it in the same way as when you were first diagnosed. But you can still have more treatment and this will often work well. Your treatment this time, may include a stem cell transplant.