Lymphoma | Symptoms, Types, & Treatment | MedStar Health
Dr Tara Santum consults with a female patient in a clinical setting.

A dedicated team specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of lymphoma

Lymphoma is cancer that begins in a group of white blood cells (lymphocytes) found in the lymph nodes, lymph vessels, spleen, thymus, tonsils, and other parts of the body. As part of the lymphatic system, they play an essential role in the body's immune system, helping to protect it from infections and other diseases.

When lymphocytes multiply abnormally, lymphoma develops. There are many different types of this cancer, although they are often grouped into two classifications: non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) and Hodgkin lymphomas. They can be slow-growing or aggressive, and treatment will depend on the location, type, and growth rate. As a result, it's important to seek care from an expert who focuses on accurately diagnosing these blood disorders and treating them using the latest therapies available.

Symptoms and risk factors

 Lymphoma symptoms vary based on location and type.

Signs of lymphoma differ depending on its type, location, and how fast it's growing. The most common symptom of this cancer is an enlarged lymph node in the neck, underarm, or groin. However, many people develop swollen lymph nodes and do not have cancer.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained fever

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Night sweats

  • Fatigue

  • Itchy skin

  • Unexplained pain in the chest, abdomen, or bones

In addition, pediatric patients with Hodgkin lymphoma may experience the above symptoms or others, such as:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Coughing

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Painless testicle lump or swelling

Other symptoms can cause these problems, too, so it’s important to see a doctor who can address the root of your concerns.

What causes lymphoma?

Most of the time, there is no clear cause of this cancer, but certain risk factors are associated with specific types of lymphoma. Learn more below.

Risk factors for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

  • Age

    While some types of the disease are more common in younger people, most cases occur in people over 60.

  • Gender

    The risk is higher among men overall, but certain types are more common in women.

  • Race

    This cancer is more likely to affect white people than African Americans and Asian Americans.

  • Chemical Exposure

    Exposure to certain chemicals increases risk.

  • Suppressed Immune System

    Taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant raises risk.

  • Certain Medical Conditions

    Medical conditions that can increase risk include:

    • An inherited immune disorder like hypogammaglobulinemia or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome

    • An autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or Sjögren syndrome

    • HIV/AIDS

    • Human T-lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-1) or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

    • Infections that chronically stimulate the immune system

Risk factors for Hodgkin's Lymphoma

  • Age

    The disease is more common from 15 to 38, and again after 55.

  • Virus Infection

    The risk is higher if you are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or mononucleosis (mono), caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

  • Family History

    While most patients do not have a family history of the disease, having a close relative (parent or sibling) with it can increase your risk.

  • Inherited Diseases

    Certain inherited immune system diseases can raise your risk.

Screening and prevention

Can you prevent Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

You cannot prevent this blood disorder. However, the following lifestyle habits may lower your risk of developing various cancers:

  • Avoid activities that may increase your risk of getting HIV/Aids or hepatitis C infections

  • Eat a well-balanced diet

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Quit smoking

  • Exercise regularly

  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene, glyphosate, herbicides, and others


Successful treatment depends on a complete and accurate diagnosis.

Because there are so many types, an accurate diagnosis is critical to your treatment. Each of our patients receives a thorough evaluation by several doctors who specialize in diagnosing lymphomas. This typically involves:

  • History and Physical Examination: We complete a thorough examination and take a full personal and family medical history.

  • Blood and Urine Work: We may take blood and urine samples to test your complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry, and other factors.

  • Lymph Node Biopsy: We use a needle or an incision to remove all or part of a lymph node. A pathologist with specialty training and experience in lymphoma will then examine the sample with a microscope.

We may use additional tools to determine if the cancer has spread:

  • CT (CAT) Scan: Computed tomography takes a series of X-rays from different angles, then stitches them together into 3D images.

  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed 3D images at higher contrast than CT scans. This can be useful for clarifying other test results.

  • PET Scan and CT: After a substance called radionuclide glucose is injected into one of your veins, a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner rotates around your body. It creates a map of cancer cells, which take in more glucose and show up brighter. The test is combined with a CT scan.

  • Bone Marrow Biopsy: We use a hollow needle to remove a small sample of bone marrow, blood, and bone from the hip bone or breastbone. The samples are studied under a microscope and may get other testing, including analysis for genetic changes.

  • Laparotomy/Laparoscopy: The organs inside the abdomen may be checked for disease, using either one larger incision (laparotomy) or smaller incisions and special tools (laparoscopy). Diseased tissue or organs may get removed, or samples taken for examination with a microscope.

  • Mediastinoscopy: An incision is made at the top of the breastbone, and a thin, lighted instrument (mediastinoscope) is inserted to check for abnormal tissue in the organs, tissues, and lymph nodes between the lungs. We may remove tissue or lymph node samples.

  • Ultrasound: Sound waves create a picture of the suspicious area.

Types of cancer

What are the types of lymphoma?

They are commonly categorized as non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) or Hodgkin lymphomas. However, there are many different types of these cancers within each of these broad groups, and the classification of these is complex. Their distinctions are important because treatment options vary based on the specific tumor characteristics of each type.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are the most common type and can begin in either B lymphocytes (B cells) or T lymphocytes (T cells). There are dozens of different types within this general category. The following are the most common types of NHL:

  • Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)

  • Follicular Lymphoma

  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (SLL)

Hodgkin lymphoma

Also known as Hodgkin's disease, Hodgkin lymphomas are a much rarer cancer type. While it can affect people of any age, it typically affects those between 15 and 38 and adults over 55.


We offer the latest promising therapies using a team approach.

Your treatment will be based on several factors, including:

  • Whether it's non-Hodgkin or Hodgkin lymphoma

  • The subtype and genetic makeup of your cancer

  • How quickly the cancer is growing

  • Your overall health and goals

Some lymphomas grow quickly (aggressive) and require prompt treatment. In contrast, indolent lymphomas (slow-growing) may benefit from a "watch and wait" approach for several years before warranting treatment.

Because we work as a team, we offer all available treatment options guided by the expertise of doctors in different fields, including hematology, medical oncology, pathology, and radiation oncology. These experts meet weekly to determine the best possible treatment plan for each new patient, ensuring our patients have access to the right treatment at the right time.

Thanks to advances in medicine, many effective treatments are available, from conventional chemotherapy to new therapies that target certain tumor cells. These innovative treatments often lead to excellent results for patients with these blood disorders.


Chemotherapy is a traditional treatment option for patients with aggressive or fast-growing lymphomas. It uses a combination of several drugs given as injections or intravenously (through a needle or tube placed in a vein). It may also be given orally in pill form, in some instances.

Immunotherapy and targeted therapy

Targeted therapy represents a new front in attacking cancer drugs and other substances aimed at specific molecules that help a disease grow, progress, and spread. The idea is to target a cancer’s unique characteristics, including genes, proteins, supporting blood vessels, or host tissue, while limiting damage to healthy cells.

As we learn more about how these types develop and grow, we continue investigating new biological treatments that can target specific molecular pathways. Many of these novel therapies are now FDA-approved, and others in clinical trials show promising outcomes for patients with certain types of NHL. Among others, these include:

  • Pathway inhibitors

  • Bispecific antibodies

  • CAR T-cell therapy

CAR T-cell therapy

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is an exciting new therapy used to treat certain types of blood disorders. It involves collecting immune cells from your blood, separating and modifying the T-cells, and then re-infusing them back into your body. Throughout this process, the T-cells are genetically modified to have new receptors on their surface. These act like missiles that can recognize and target cancerous cells when returned to the body. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is the only authorized treatment center in the Washington, D.C., area to offer CAR T-cell therapy for adults.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy for blood cancers uses high-energy X-rays or other particles from an external machine to kill cancerous cells. While radiation is not used as frequently as other treatments like chemotherapy and targeted therapy, there are useful applications:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma: While radiation is usually very effective for killing diseased cells in Hodgkin lymphoma, we try to limit its use because of side effects. Thanks to advanced imaging, we can target the disease more precisely and further avoid damage to healthy tissues.

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: We might recommend radiation alone for early-stage tumors or with chemotherapy for more aggressive disease. We might also pair it with high-dose chemotherapy before a stem cell transplant.

Whatever the application, we are careful to minimize radiation side effects, particularly for patients who are younger, pregnant, or older.

Stem cell transplants

Also called a bone marrow transplant, stem cell transplants use a patient's own cells (autologous) or donor cells (allogeneic) to replace stem cells in the bloodstream. While this is most commonly used to treat multiple myeloma and some other blood disorders, we may also recommend it for lymphoma patients when appropriate. We're proud to be the only academic stem cell transplant center in the Washington, D.C. region, giving patients in the area access to this life-saving treatment. MedStar Health is also the largest collection site for the National Marrow Donor program, which gives us exceptional expertise in cell collection.

Looking for expert cancer care?

With multiple locations throughout the region, patients have access to many of the nation’s renowned cancer specialists offering high quality care, second opinions and a chance for better outcomes close to where they live and work. Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the nation’s comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), serves as the research engine allowing patients access to clinical trials that often lead to breakthroughs in cancer care.

Our locations

Distance from Change locationEnter your location

MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital

25500 Point Lookout Rd.
First Fl.
Leonardtown, MD 20650

MedStar Franklin Square Cancer Center at Loch Raven Campus

5601 Loch Raven Blvd.
Russell Morgan Building
First Floor
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center

9103 Franklin Square Dr.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute
Suite 220
Baltimore, MD 21237

Why choose us

At MedStar Health, we see a large number of patients who have lymphoma every year, making us some of the most experienced in the region. Many of our doctors specialize exclusively in treating lymphomas and other blood disorders, giving us exceptional experience in all different types. Through our collaboration with Washington, D.C.'s only comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, patients benefit from access to all of the latest treatments and therapies, including those only available in clinical trials.

Patients choose us because:

  • We have expertise in recognizing the subtle differences between each subtype of lymphoma, including those that are rare.

    The right treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. Because there are over 100 different subtypes of this blood cancer, specialized expertise in lymphoma pathology and treatment is critical. Our multidisciplinary team involves several different doctors with expertise in different fields, including pathologists with specialization in evaluating and diagnosing lymphoma. This ensures our doctors accurately determine the unique characteristics and features of your cancer, which will lead to the most effective treatment options.

  • Our lymphoma experts work collaboratively in your best interest.

    Many of our doctors focus exclusively on treating lymphomas, and we meet weekly to discuss new or complex cases. This allows our patients to receive collective recommendations with input from experts of different disciplines, from pathology and radiology to medical and radiation oncology, bone marrow transplant, and cellular immunotherapy. Each of us brings internationally-recognized expertise, and our multidisciplinary approach ensures patients receive the best treatment options.

  • We continue advancing new treatments through research and are home to the only CAR T-cell therapy program in Washington, D.C.

    Our Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy program is an authorized treatment center for several innovative CAR T-cell therapies used to treat certain types of blood disorders and cancers. We're the only program of its kind in the region, and MedStar Georgetown University is also the largest adult stem cell collection facility accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT) in the area. This provides access to life-saving treatment options for patients across the Maryland and Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.

Awards and recognition

Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy logo

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is the region’s only adult Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT)-accredited program for autologous transplant, allogeneic transplant, and cellular immunotherapy.

Recipient of an Accreditation with Commendation, the highest level of approval, from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer (CoC)

Numerous surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists recognized as "Top Doctors" by both Baltimore Magazine and the Washingtonian

Magnet® designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Clinical trials and research

Clinical trials

Many of the most effective treatment options today were only recently discovered through innovative clinical trials investigating new, better ways to treat this blood disorder. Through our active research program, we continue studying targeted therapies that give patients access to new and promising lymphoma treatments before they are widely available elsewhere.


Our doctors work very collaboratively with each other and other research organizations, including the Lymphoma Research Foundation to advance care for this type of blood cancer.

Patient stories

Support services

A cancer diagnosis can affect you and your loved ones in many different ways, and we're dedicated to caring for you in any way we can. We offer a full spectrum of support services designed to help you thrive emotionally, physically, and mentally as you navigate treatment, survivorship, and beyond.

Genetic counseling

Lymphomas are rarely caused by genetic factors, but having a family history of this blood cancer can affect your risk level and the next generation's. Our board-certified genetic counselors can help you understand your predisposition to certain types of cancers and offer guidance for ways to manage those risks.

Personalized rehabilitation

We offer state-of-the-art rehabilitation services to help you reclaim your strength, mobility, and stamina during and after treatment. Our rehabilitation experts will design an individualized plan to get you moving again.


Our survivorship program is designed to help identify and address any long-term impacts from your cancer and treatment. From support groups and counseling to follow-up specialty care and educational resources, we're here to help you manage your health as you settle into life after treatment.