Hodgkin Disease

What is Hodgkin disease?

Hodgkin disease is a type of lymphoma, a cancer in the lymphatic system. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2013 about 9,290 new cases will be diagnosed, and approximately 1,180 people will die from the disease. About 10% to 15% of cases are found in children and teenagers.

Hodgkin disease causes the cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce, which can then form tumors in lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Hodgkin disease cells can also spread to other organs.

What are the symptoms of Hodgkin disease?

The following are the most common symptoms of Hodgkin disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Painless swelling of lymph nodes in neck, underarm, and/or groin

  • Fever

  • Night sweats

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

  • Itching of the skin

  • Cough or shortness of breath

The symptoms of Hodgkin disease may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems, such as influenza or other infections. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What are the risk factors for Hodgkin disease?

Suggested risk factors for Hodgkin disease include the following:

  • Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis (also called mono) has been linked to Hodgkin disease.

  • Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Infection with this virus, which causes AIDS, has also been linked to an increase risk of Hodgkin disease.

  • Age. Hodgkin disease occurs most often in people between ages 15 and 40, and in people over the age of 55.

  • Sex. Hodgkin disease is slightly more common in men than in women.

  • Family history. Brothers and sisters of those with Hodgkin disease have a higher-than-average chance of developing this disease.

How is Hodgkin disease diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for Hodgkin disease may include the following:

  • Blood tests

  • X-ray of the chest. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • Computed tomography (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than standard X-rays.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. This test is not often used for Hodgkin disease unless the doctor is concerned it may have spread to the brain or spinal cord.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A type of nuclear medicine procedure. For this test, a radioactive sugar is injected into the bloodstream. Because cancer cells use more of the sugar than normal cells, the radioactivity tends to collect in them, and can be detected with a special camera. A PET scan image is not finely detailed like a CT scan, but it can sometimes spot cancer cells in different areas of the body even when they can't be seen by other tests. This test is often used in combination with a CT scan.

  • Lymph node biopsy. A procedure performed to remove tissue or cells from a lymph node in the body for examination under a microscope. A biopsy is needed to confirm the diagnosis of Hodgkin disease and to tell what type it is.

  • Bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy. A procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the numbers, size, and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells. This test may be used to see if cancer cells have reached the bone marrow.

What is the treatment for Hodgkin disease?

Specific treatment for Hodgkin disease will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent (stage) and location of the disease

  • The type of Hodgkin disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Monoclonal antibodies 

  • High-dose chemotherapy/radiotherapy with stem cell transplantation

Please consult your doctor with any questions or concerns you may have regarding this condition.