Get answers to your Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma questions.
Lymphoma - Hodgkin's; Hodgkin's lymphoma; Hodgkins disease; HD
The doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination. If these simple procedures point to Hodgkin's disease, a number of additional tests may be needed to either rule out other diseases or confirm HD and determine the extent of the cancer.
The doctor will examine not only the affected lymph nodes but also the surrounding tissues and other lymph node areas for signs of infection, skin injuries, or tumors. The consistency of the node is sometimes indicative of certain conditions. For example, a stony, hard node is often a sign of cancer, usually one that has metastasized (spread to another part of the body). A firm, rubbery node may indicate lymphoma (including Hodgkin's). Soft nodes suggest infection or inflammatory conditions.
Blood tests are performed to measure white and red blood cells, blood protein levels, the uric acid level, blood proteins, and the liver's function. Another blood test is the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), which is sometimes elevated in Hodgkin's disease (although it is not specific for this condition).
Chest X-Ray. A chest x-ray shows the lymph nodes in the chest and neck area, where Hodgkin's disease usually starts. It a useful step for detection of enlarged lymph nodes.
Computer Tomography. Computed tomography (CT) scans are more accurate than x-rays. They can detect abnormalities in the chest and neck area, as well as revealing the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread. CT scans are used to evaluate symptoms and help diagnose lymphomas, help with staging of the disease, monitor response to treatment, and evaluate when the symptoms occur. A CT scan is also often used in detecting lymphomas in the abdominal and pelvic areas, the brain, and chest area.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET). PET scans combined with CT scans can help doctors clarify the location of the cancer. PET scans can also provide information on whether or not an enlarged lymph node is benign or cancerous and are more accurate than CT scans or other imaging tests for staging lymphomas. PET scans may also help doctors determine how well a patient has responded to treatment, if any residual cancer exists, and if a patient has achieved remission.
A biopsy of the suspicious lymph node is the most definitive way to diagnose Hodgkin's disease. The lymph node sample will be examined by a pathologist for the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells or other abnormal features.
The type of biopsy performed depends in part on the location and accessibility of the lymph node. The doctor may surgically remove the entire lymph node (excisional biopsy) or a small part of it (incisional biopsy). In some cases, the doctor may use fine needle aspiration to withdraw a small amount of tissue from the lymph node. Biopsies of bone marrow may also be performed in patients with existing Hodgkin's disease if the doctor suspects that it may have spread to the marrow.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2008. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2008.
Brenner H, Gondos A, Pulte D. Ongoing improvement in long-term survival of patients with Hodgkin disease at all ages and recent catch-up of older patients. Blood. 2008;111 (6): 2977-83.
Fermé C, Eghbali H, Meerwaldt JH, et al. Chemotherapy plus involved-field radiation in early-stage Hodgkin's disease. N Engl J Med. 2007 Nov 8;357(19):1916-27.
Horning SJ. Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKena WG, eds. Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 111.
Juweid ME, Stroobants S, Hoekstra OS, et al. Use of positron emission tomography for response assessment of lymphoma: consensus of the Imaging Subcommittee of International Harmonization Project in Lymphoma. J Clin Oncol. 2007 Feb 10;25(5):571-8. Epub 2007 Jan 22.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Hodgkin Disease / Lymphoma. V.2.2009.
Oeffinger KC, Ford JS, Moskowitz CS, Diller LR, Hudson MM, Chou JF, et al. Breast cancer surveillance practices among women previously treated with chest radiation for a childhood cancer. JAMA. 2009 Jan 28;301(4):404-14.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885