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non-hodgkin MALT Lymphoma Patient looking at and listening to

Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects certain white blood cells (lymphocytes) found in the moist lining of some bodily organs and cavities. Most often, the cancer originates in the stomach (gastric MALT lymphoma), but it can also develop in the lungs, thyroid, salivary glands, eyes and other soft tissues (non-gastric MALT lymphoma). The tumors tend to grow slowly and remain localized.

Causes of and risk factors for MALT lymphoma

Like all types of lymphoma, MALT lymphoma occurs when lymphocytes undergo abnormal DNA changes that cause them to grow uncontrollably. The precise triggers of these cellular mutations are not yet well understood by scientists in the general medical community.

MALT lymphoma often arises in an area of the body affected by long-term inflammation. In most cases, the cancer occurs secondary to an autoimmune disease or chronic infection. For instance, many people who are diagnosed with MALT lymphoma of the salivary glands also have Sjogren’s syndrome, and many people who are diagnosed with MALT lymphoma of the thyroid also have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Additionally, scientists have conclusively linked gastric MALT lymphoma to chronic Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection.

Other risk factors for MALT lymphoma include long-term immunosuppressant drug therapy, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, celiac disease and advanced age. Most cases are diagnosed after age 60.

Signs and symptoms of MALT lymphoma

MALT lymphoma symptoms can vary depending on the part of the body affected. For instance, gastric MALT lymphoma may cause:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Persistent indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

MALT lymphoma of the lungs may cause:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Shortness of breath

Some people also experience B symptoms, which are characteristic of Hodgkin lymphoma as well as many non-Hodgkin lymphomas. These include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Unintended weight loss

Diagnosing MALT lymphoma

The most commonly used test for MALT lymphoma is a biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of suspicious tissue for analysis under a microscope by a pathologist. The type of biopsy performed can vary based on the part of the body affected. For instance, an endoscopy may be used to diagnose gastric MALT lymphoma, while a bronchoscopy may be used to diagnose MALT lymphoma of the lungs.

In addition to a tissue biopsy, other tests that may be used to diagnose MALT lymphoma include:

  • Blood work
  • Chest X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Ultrasounds
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans

MALT lymphoma treatment

Treatment for MALT lymphoma can vary based on the nature of the symptoms, the part of the body affected, the stage of the cancer and whether there is an associated infection. Some options include:

  • Active monitoring (watchful waiting)
  • Infection treatment, such as a course of antibiotics
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy

Surgery may also be considered if a small, localized tumor can be safely removed.

How Moffitt Cancer Center approaches MALT lymphoma

As Florida’s top cancer hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center is home to some of the world’s most highly regarded scientists and clinicians. Working together, we are dramatically changing the landscape for all current and future cancer patients. We are proud to have earned the prestigious designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center from the National Cancer Institute, which is a nod to our influential research and groundbreaking clinical trials.

Moffitt’s renowned Malignant Hematology Program includes a section dedicated exclusively to the diagnosis and treatment of lymphomas. If you would like to learn more about MALT lymphoma, you are welcome to talk with one of our specialists. You can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. You do not need a referral to request an appointment.