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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), which is sometimes referred to as simply lymphoma, is cancer that originates in certain white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Playing a key role in the body’s immune function, lymphocytes help fight off infections.

To date, scientists have identified more than 60 specific NHL subtypes, which are categorized by the characteristics of the lymphoma cells, including their appearance, their genetic features and the presence of certain proteins on their surface.

Indolent vs. aggressive lymphomas

Based on the cancer’s rate of progression, NHL can be further characterized as aggressive or indolent. Also, if the cancer progression falls between indolent and aggressive, it is referred to as intermediate-grade NHL.

Aggressive lymphomas, which account for approximately 60% of all NHL cases, tend to grow more quickly and produce more symptoms than indolent lymphomas. The most common subtypes of aggressive NHL are:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)
  • Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma
  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)-associated lymphoma
  • Burkitt lymphoma
  • Central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma
  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma
  • Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL)
  • Peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL)
  • Transformed follicular and transformed mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphomas

The most common subtypes of indolent NHL are:

  • Follicular lymphoma (FL)
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (mycosis fungoides and Sézary syndrome)
  • Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma/Waldenström macroglobulinemia
  • Marginal zone B-cell lymphoma
  • Gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small-cell lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL)

Patient getting lymph nodes checked

Aggressive and indolent lymphomas may be treated differently. Also, indolent NHL and intermediate-grade NHL can potentially transform into aggressive NHL.

Intensive, multidrug chemotherapy can be effective for addressing aggressive lymphomas. Additionally, the chemotherapy may be supplemented by radiation therapy in some cases, such as when large NHL masses are detected during the diagnostic and staging process.

Medically reviewed by Julio Chavez, MD, Malignant Hematology

If you’d like to discuss treatment options for aggressive NHL with a specialist in the Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.