What is Hodgkin lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that grows in the white blood cells of the lymph system, called lymphocytes. The lymph system is a part of the immune system, which normally helps fight infection and disease in the body. The other main type of lymphoma is non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hodgkin lymphoma can grow in lymph tissue anywhere in the body, including the lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, tonsils and thymus.

While people of all ages can get Hodgkin lymphoma, it most common in teens ages 15 to 19. There are two main types of Hodgkin lymphoma that are found in children:

  • Classic Hodgkin lymphoma: This is the most common type of the condition. It is associated with the presence of large, abnormal cells, called Reed-Sternberg cells.
  • Nodular lymphocyte predominant: This is the less common type of Hodgkin lymphoma. It is most often found in children under age 10. The cells in this type of lymphoma are called “popcorn” cells because of their shape.

What are the signs and symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma?

The symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma can vary from child to child. Some common symptoms in children may include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the underarm, collarbone, neck, groin or chest
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling very tired
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Itchy skin

What causes Hodgkin lymphoma?

Experts do not know exactly what causes Hodgkin lymphoma in children, but there are some factors that may increase a child’s risk. These include:

  • Having a weakened immune system
  • HIV infection
  • Having had the Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis)
  • Having a sibling or parent who has had Hodgkin lymphoma

How is Hodgkin lymphoma treated?

Treatment options for Hodgkin lymphoma may depend on your child’s age, the type of lymphoma they have and whether it has spread in the body. Your care team at Arkansas Children’s is experienced in treating Hodgkin lymphoma, and we’ll work with you to create the best treatment plan for your child’s specific type of Hodgkin lymphoma and symptoms.

  • Chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. The chemotherapy may be taken by mouth or injected into the bloodstream. It can be used alone or with other treatments.
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells or stop the cancer from growing. The radiation is directed at the specific part of the body where the cancer is growing.
  • Targeted drug therapy attacks specific cancer cells directly. Targeted therapies usually cause less damage to other cells in the body than chemotherapy or radiation. One type of targeted therapy is monoclonal antibody therapy. Monoclonal antibodies are man-made antibodies that target specific cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy is a newer type of treatment that uses your child’s immune system to help fight the cancer. PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitor therapy and CAR T-cell therapy are examples of immunotherapy.
  • Surgery can remove cancer cells in some types of Hodgkin lymphoma that have not spread. 
  • Bone marrow transplant (also called a stem cell transplant) uses high doses of chemotherapy to damage the bone marrow. Then healthy stem cells from your child’s own bone marrow, or from a donor, are placed back into the blood.
  • Clinical trials test new types of cancer treatments. Ask your Arkansas Children’s care team if your child is eligible for any clinical trials to treat Hodgkin lymphoma.

Make an appointment